The University of Pretoria’s has unveiled Africa’s first independent materials testing facility and National Reference Lab as part of its new Engineering 4.0 research and training hub for smart transport systems and smart cities.

“It’s exciting, novel work. For example, for the first time in South Africa and Africa, we will have an active, approximately 2 kilometre-long active test lane on Pretoria’s N4 highway,” says a statement by the University.

The facility will enable the collection of real-time data and use of big data analytics and the Internet of Things to do tests and analysis on how different road surfaces perform, how traffic moves on the highway, density and type of traffic at any given time, emissions testing and air quality monitoring.

Data and modelling will support the planning and designing of future transport systems, and support cost-effective and innovative road surface engineering, which is key to South Africa’s infrastructure development.

The Engineering 4.0 facility will also serve as a laboratory for the training and certification of laboratory technicians and engineering students, which will ensure that materials testing in the field is of a high standard.

“Engineering 4.0’s main anchor is our civil engineering department (there is a huge shortage of civil engineers in South Africa) and our other engineering departments are also involved,” said the University.

There has been keen interest in Engineering 4.0’s research, development and training from SADC countries, as well as Rwanda, Nigeria, China and the United States to develop partnerships and improve efficiencies and capabilities

“For our smart cities research, we will be working with a team of people from different disciplines, including social and environmental scientists, economists, urban planners, architects and lawyers,” it added.

South Africa is 18th in the world in terms of the longest network of paved roads with a 158,000 kilometres of paved roads and a total road network (paved and gravel) of 750,000 kilometres.

The facility’s official launch has been delayed following the government lockdown.

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