Use of appropriate high-tech solutions for road network and condition analysis, with a focus on satellite imagery

Many countries in Africa have a limited knowledge of their roads and associated condition, particularly regarding their rural road networks. In most cases it would be a huge task to establish this information, especially where access is difficult due to geography or conflict. High resolution satellite imagery is now available worldwide and covers many of these inaccessible areas, with the potential to provide rapid inventory data and condition assessments of entire networks.

Project Objectives

This project has two components, firstly to develop a methodology for using satellite imagery to assess road condition, and secondly to explore other high-tech solutions for network assessment, such as big data, mobile phones, UAVs (drones) etc. The project objectives are:

Research – To provide a cost-effective and reliable high-tech solution for the capture of maintenance management data related to inventory and condition of a country's rural road network. This includes mapping of previously un-mapped networks and finding a way to assess their condition in new and innovative ways.

Capacity Building and Technology Transfer - To enhance the capacity of relevant partner-country road and transport ministries, departments and agencies in the key areas covered by the project. Wherever possible local institutions should be used to carry out training, and regional conferences and events will be used to disseminate the knowledge gained.

Uptake and Embedment - Incorporate a process for keeping relevant agencies fully informed on project outcomes and how these outcomes can be cost-effectively utilised in normal practice. 

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Typical UAV for aerial imagery (photo: TRL)

Methodology and Phasing

Most AfCAP countries were interested to participate in this project, but there is only capacity to engage with four. An objective review has identified Ghana, Kenya, Uganda and Zambia as the most appropriate partners, based on climate, geography, vegetation and local capacity, with the possibility of including some other countries to a lesser extent. There are three phases, which together comprise the full 12 months of the project.

Phase 1 is the inception, which includes a desk study and literature review. During this time the pilot studies are identified for Phase 2 and the partner countries are selected. Partner countries are required to provide resources to complement the AfCAP funding and technical assistance.

Phase 2 involves carrying out pilot research studies in each country. It is expected that each country will undergo a satellite mapping and condition assessment exercise, as well as trialling one or two high-tech solutions, as identified during the desk study. The results of this research will be consolidated into a guideline for high-tech solutions for rural road network inventory and road condition assessment, including a methodology for using satellite imagery to assess paved and unpaved road conditions.

Phase 3 will see presentation of the results at a stakeholder workshop, culminating in a final report and a scientific paper to be published in a relevant journal.



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Project Resources and Reports

Project Inception Report, May 2016

Peer reviewed Desk Study Report, October 2016

Progress Report No 1, October 2016

Progress Report No 2, November 2016

Tanzania Scoping Study, April 2017

External Resources

Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD): A regional centre covering eastern and southern Africa, with 20 member countries.

World Bank: The World Bank has initiated a number of projects using remote sensing, including in the roads sector in Africa.

African Development Bank: The AfDB hosts the 'Open Data for Africa' initiative, aimed at boosting access to quality data necessary for managing and monitoring development results in African countries, including the strategic development goals.

Remote Sensing and GIS Laboratory - Makerere University, Uganda: This facility was initiated in 1992 by several departments of Makerere University after realising that the training facility in remote sensing and GIS techniques for applications in fields of natural resource surveys and management was becoming essential.

Centre for Remote Sensing and Geographic Information Services (CERSGIS) – University of Ghana: This is a self-sustaining Non-profit Organisation that focuses on providing geographic information and remote sensing services for sustainable development planning and management of resources.

Satellite Applications Catapult, United Kingdom: The Satellite Applications Catapult is an independent innovation and technology company, created to foster growth across the economy through the exploitation of space.

Project lead details

​Robin Workman, TRL​rworkman@trl.co.uk​


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Road condition assessment by satellite imagery (photo: TRL)