Technological Roads

This has been on my blog to-do list for a while now, and have been prompted again to post it having seen the same subject on the BBC site yesterday.

With the technology of cars advancing impressively to include all manner of smart sensors, “green” electric motors, parking assistance, and even driverless cars, none of this really matters if we don’t have suitable roads to drive on.

Roads.  Just a bit of tarmac laid down (relatively) smoothly with some painted lines, right?  Well, yes, but why can’t we incorporate some technology into them.  Improving them to adapt to traffic and weather, making them more sustainable, making them safer.

Well that’s exactly what Daan Roosegaarde of Studio Roosegaard thought when he set about designing technological advances to our roads as part of a Smart Highways project.

I was completely amazed that we somehow spend billions on the design and R&D of cars but somehow the roads – which actually determine the way our landscape looks like – are completely immune to that process.  They are still stuck in the Middle Ages, so to speak.

smart highway1

The first, and perhaps most obvious, upgrade to our roads is to use a phosphorescent paint for the road markings.  Inspired by deep sea jelly fish it fuels the idea of a energy-neutral street, as the paint “charges up” during daylight hours and then glows throughout the night.  This is ideal in rural areas where existing street lighting is minimal, and perhaps one day even removes the need for any altogether.

smart highway4

Following on from that idea, in the colder months temperatures can drop quickly leaving drivers unaware about looming icy and inclement conditions.  The use of a dynamic temperature-sensitive paint would provide a simple alert system to drivers by ghosting up snowflakes on the road to act as a warning system when the tarmac becomes cold enough for ice to form.

smart highway6

In order to keep running and maintenance costs down, most of the ideas here focus on free and renewable energy resources.  Linked neatly to that is wind power.  At either end of tunnels large amounts of wind and air flow can circulate which is essentially wasted energy at the moment.  The plan is to use harness this air and, when combined with other air flows from the central reservation of cars passing in opposite directions, use it to power small turbines and further light sources for edge lighting.  Similar sorts of applications are already in use on the railways (certainly in the UK anyhow).

smart highway3

With an increasing presence of electric vehicles on the roads, the idea of an Induction Priority Lane doesn’t sound far away.  The concept is to build-in coils capable of recharging electric cars as they pass overhead, extending the battery life and range of which a current electric motor and battery setup can provide.

smart highway5

Studio Roosegaard was awarded a Best Future Concept award at the Dutch Design Awards last year, and Dutch civil works firm Heijmans has already taking the first steps in developing the concepts of using photo luminescence on the roads, making sure the cars of tomorrow have something suitable to drive on.  In fact, a 137m stretch of real road, nicknamed Route 66 of the future, will feature some of these ideas later this year!

Yes lots of these ideas are costly and perhaps difficult, or near-impossible, to implemented at the moment.  But so is any new idea, particularly one as revolutionary as this.  Roads haven’t been gradually iterated over past decades, they have essentially remained the same over a very long period of time so to break into that infrastructure is always going to be tricky.

As a designer I fully commend and support the approach and ideas here, and as general members of society everyone (designer or not) should too.  I think the key thing to remember here is that the suggestion isn’t for every road in the world to have these.  Starting out with just major routes and motorways, and gradually trickling the technology down to commuter routes and, who knows, by that point maybe even bicycles will have been given some more consideration in this!

More information in a great video on the Smart Highways project here.
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6 Responses to “Technological Roads”


  1. 1 rimbulis May 3, 2013 at 8:13 pm

    Would like to express my thoughts on this subject.
    You mentioned in the first paragraphs about the driverless cars – in my opinion that tech is coming into our lives if we want it or not and I believe that soon enough it will replace human drivers mainly because of one reason – safety. Already modern cars do most of the driving for us, it`s just that we are still the ones who make the decision when to make car do something; ABS, ESP, parking, cruise control and braking, etc. and human role is declining… In that case, it seems to me that most of the information displayed on these ‘smart roads’ would be quite impractical, because driverless cars themselves gather a lot of information with their sensors, and they don`t really require fancy visuals for that.
    As for the aesthetics of the roads – I do agree that roads should`ve been redesigned so that they would provide more useful information for the nowaday driver.
    For the future – charge on the go sounds fantastic!
    But, hey, thanks for the article!

    • 2 inspirationalgeek May 8, 2013 at 9:27 am

      Hi, glad you enjoyed the post.

      I agree with you that technology is inevitable, and no doubt we are heading towards a place that will eliminate human drivers with safety being the driving force. However, I think we are still a very long way away from a complete driver-less world. The investment, R&D, testing and so forth will be very time consuming and costly and will take place over many years so if we make incremental changes, such as advancing the roads as much as the cars, this will aid the process.

      Charging electric vehicles “on the go” is probably one of the most exciting and viable ideas to consider as we already have electric cars so it is something everyone can relate too!

  2. 3 Gabriel Catalano - human being | #INperfeccion® May 4, 2013 at 1:41 am

    Excellent article! Technology never ceases to amaze …

  3. 5 Gabriel Catalano - human being | #INperfeccion® May 4, 2013 at 1:42 am

    Reblogueó esto en gabriel catalanoy comentado:
    I was completely amazed that we somehow spend billions on the design and R&D of cars but somehow the roads – which actually determine the way our landscape looks like – are completely immune to that process. They are still stuck in the Middle Ages, so to speak.

    The first, and perhaps most obvious, upgrade to our roads is to use a phosphorescent paint for the road markings. Inspired by deep sea jelly fish it fuels the idea of a energy-neutral street, as the paint “charges up” during daylight hours and then glows throughout the night. This is ideal in rural areas where existing street lighting is minimal, and perhaps one day even removes the need for any altogether.

    Following on from that idea, in the colder months temperatures can drop quickly leaving drivers unaware about looming icy and inclement conditions. The use of a dynamic temperature-sensitive paint would provide a simple alert system to drivers by ghosting up snowflakes on the road to act as a warning system when the tarmac becomes cold enough for ice to form.


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