Transportation news feeds are filled with tech innovations and new start-ups willing to improve our daily mobility. But infrastructures are also changing; new materials and technologies are appearing to transform our roads into smart, connected and safer paths. Be careful, you might be generating data or energy thanks to your car - or your bike - very soon.

NEW MATERIALS FOR MORE SUSTAINABLE ROADS

If asphalt is generally used to pave roads, the expensive material presents environmental issues, as it boosts the creation of heat islands during heatwaves in cities. The material also tends to deteriorate if neglected, with the appearance of cracks and potholes disturbing traffic and sometimes causing accidents.

To solve these different challenges, engineers are creating more sustainable materials that could replace it. British engineer Toby McCartney is determined to pave the roads with his innovative material made of recycled plastic, which is 60% stronger than traditional concrete, and lasts 10 times longer.
In Australia, Abbas Mohajerani has developed a way to mix cigarette butts with asphalt, creating a material that both recycles cigarette butts and helps contain the heat conduction of the pavement. A smart way to get rid of the 1.3 million tons of cigarette butts produced around the world every year.  Curbed
 

WHEN ROADS WILL PRODUCE ENERGY

 
Other initiatives are working on solutions to create roads that could harvest solar energy and then produce energy locally.
After years of research and a successful crowdfunding campaign, the Solar Roadways are finally becoming a reality. These hexagonal glass-covered panels that can turn roads into green energy generators were on trial on a rest station sidewalk in Conway, Missouri, along the legendary Route 66.
This prototype is not the only one being tested: in Europe, multiple engineering firms and local authorities are conducting pilots with solar road technology. In Normandy, France, the first “solar road” was opened for trial in December 2016. The road-building company Colas and INES (the French National Solar Institute) teamed up to develop Wattway, a surface with embedded solar panels that can be laid over existing roads and produce energy. If the experimentation is a success, the French government would be keen to add 1,000 kilometres more of Wattway panels on roads throughout the country. Will French car drivers soon produce energy while driving ?

TECH FOR SAFER ROADS

 

The Solar Roadways technology was announced with another major asset: it would be safer that actual concrete. The panels would heat themselves, which would avoid the presence of snow or ice on the roads, and the need for salt – and expensive salt trucks.

We already wrote about this type of technology that could create safer roads, especially in countries with long, cold winters. The University of Nebraska, Lincoln, conceived a new type of concrete that can heat the surface and de-ice the road by itself, thanks to the conductivity of the material. Smarter and safer.  FastCompany

 



TOWARDS SMARTER PATHS

 

“Smart city” may be a buzzword in urban projects these days, but the concept becomes very tangible when we talk about urban infrastructure – and roads are no exception.
The addition of sensors can greatly improve the driving experience. The design firm Studio Roosegaarde conceived the “Smart Highway” project in 2013, introducing motion sensors on each side of the road able to light up when cars approach. The lights would then slowly dim away as they pass. This smart solution would save a great amount of electricity while providing night visibility exactly as and when required.
Embedded sensors in roads can also collect precious data about road use, speed or vehicle weight. The start-up Integrated Roadways is piloting an experiment to embed such sensors in the roads of Kansas City, Missouri. This solution could play a key role in the development of self-driving cars, assisting them with navigation, communication and even power. The roads of tomorrow will definitely be our smart guides when travelling.