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Systematic analysis of driverless technologies

David John Edwards (School of Engineering and the Built Environment, Birmingham City University, Birmingham, UK)
Jahangir Akhtar (School of Engineering and the Built Environment, Birmingham City University, Birmingham, UK)
Iain Rillie (Highways England Company Limited, Guildford, UK)
Nicholas Chileshe (University of South Australia, UniSA STEM, Scarce Resources and Circular Economy (ScaRCE), SA 5000, Adelaide, Australia)
Joseph H.K. Lai (Department of Building Services Engineering, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Kowloon, Hong Kong)
Chris J. Roberts (School of Engineering and the Built Environment, Birmingham City University, UK)
Obuks Ejohwomu (Department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering, The University of Manchester, Manchester, UK)

Journal of Engineering, Design and Technology

ISSN: 1726-0531

Article publication date: 15 June 2021

Issue publication date: 6 December 2022




The advent of Industry 4.0 has engendered opportunities for a coalescence of digital technologies that collectively enable driverless vehicles to operate during the construction and use of a highway. Yet, hitherto scant research has been conducted to review these collective developments and/or sample construction practitioner opinion on them. This study aims to present a systematic review of extant literature on the application of driverless technologies in civil engineering and in particular, the highways infrastructure sector and offers insight into the limitations of associated barriers to full adoption, namely, current technological development processes, legal deficiencies and societal concerns. In so doing, this work presents a vignette of contemporary developments augmented by a critical analysis from practitioners’ perceptions.


A mixed philosophical methodological approach is adopted for this inductive research study. Interpretivism is used to critically analyse the literature and post-positivism to perform content analysis of the literature and synthesis of the discourse with practitioners. A total of 44 related papers published between 1998 and 2019 have been included in this study. Emergent themes identified from literature are then discussed in some further detail, namely, 1) automation and robotics; 2) case studies and simulations; and 3) safety and ergonomics). A focus group is then held with leading industrialists to discuss their experiences of advanced driverless technology applications in practice. Based upon a culmination of emergent evidence, a conceptual model of prevailing barriers is then developed to further elucidate upon the challenges facing the highways infrastructure sector.


Research into driverless technologies within the highways infrastructure sector has received relatively scant academic attention. Hitherto, most advancements made have stemmed from multidisciplinary teams consisting of engineering, information technology and social scientist researchers. There is insufficient supporting evidence of civil engineering and construction academics input into developments made – suggesting that prototype products often fail to adequately consider practical applications in the highways infrastructure sector at the design and use case stage. This view is substantiated by feedback from leading industry experts who participated in unstructured telephone interviews. Their feedback suggests that practical applications of products have been beset with problems, thus creating a perception that advanced technologies are largely “unusable” within the highways infrastructure sector and so are unsuitable for large-scale (and particularly bespoke) industrial applications.


This research critically synthesises the prevailing scientific discourse within extant literature on driverless technologies implemented but also garners practitioner feedback from leading UK industrialists on their applications in practice. Hitherto, this combined analysis approach has been rarely used in spite of it having significant advantages of tacit knowledge reflection on technologies used, where such can be used as a basis for further informed discourse and/or development. Moreover, this work culminates in a conceptual model that acts as a catalyst for future research investigations.



Edwards, D.J., Akhtar, J., Rillie, I., Chileshe, N., Lai, J.H.K., Roberts, C.J. and Ejohwomu, O. (2022), "Systematic analysis of driverless technologies", Journal of Engineering, Design and Technology, Vol. 20 No. 6, pp. 1388-1411.



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