What’s the future for smart highways?
We’re just scratching the surface of future roads, and yet, we’re already seeing great examples of intelligent transport systems. Cities are looking at Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X) technologies and solutions, which includes Vehicle to Infrastructure (V2I), Vehicle to Vehicle (V2V) and Vehicle to Pedestrian (V2P) use cases, applications and services.
For example, in an attempt to save energy, the Netherlands would sometimes turn off lights near less-frequently used roads. Of course, even with fewer drivers, that’s still incredibly dangerous. To solve that challenge, the country introduced glow-in-the-dark lighting on their highways — smart, motion-sensitive road lights. Using photoluminescent powder mixed with the road paint, roads will light up at night, making lane lines, medians and barricades more obvious. In addition, those roads offer safer experiences for drivers.
The Netherlands also introduced the SolaRoad project in October 2014, creating a 70-meter stretch of bike path that was powered by solar energy. It was met with enthusiasm and considered a successful project, producing almost 10,000 kWh in its first year. SolaRoad has inspired projects in other countries, too.
In China, companies like Shandong Pavenergy and Qilu Transportation have installed plastic-covered solar panels along roads throughout the country. By generating electricity from highways and roads instead of in fields or deserts filled with solar panels, cities can conserve land and save on energy costs. Solar roads can also use electric heating strips to melt snow or ice, provide illuminated signage for exits and hazards, and would likely need to be replaced less often than asphalt roads. That would result in less construction on highways, easing traffic congestion.
While these roads have great potential, there are still more initial upfront costs, and there are concerns over the amount of damage solar panels could take, as well as the risk of theft. And sometimes, they don’t work as well as expected.
French company Colas has developed 25 experimental solar roads and parking lots in France, Canada, Japan and the United States. The company also created the Wattway in December 2016, the longest solar road in the world. However, it deteriorated within two years, produced half the expected electricity and created substantial traffic noise.
Wattway may have ultimately failed, but it sparked some interesting alternative suggestions for future endeavors. For example, smart highways could use angled solar cells instead of having them lay flat on the road, or more cars could be built with solar panels on their roofs.
We’re just scratching the surface on what smart highways can accomplish, but there’s plenty of excitement on the horizon and our cars are getting smarter too. If you plan on upgrading this year, consider checking to see if your car insurance quotes are the lowest possible. With more successful projects, we could see more efficient and safer roads — and that’s a benefit to all drivers.