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What the smart roads of the future might look like

Technology is advancing at lightning speed, setting us up to look like we live in a sci-fi film. While the first flying cars are actually achieving lift off already, nations around the world are investing in new infrastructure, with varying results that could be the new normal in our lifetime. Taking a look at the possibilities for future roadway innovations, Compare the Market, a consumer research company, has outlined some road technologies that are currently in development.

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Solar roads

Solar roads work much like any other type of solar surface, except they won’t be made of glass panels. Instead, solar roads are equipped with durable crystalline silicon photovoltaic (PV) solar panels that can be walked and driven on with no damage to the surface. There are a few challenges to address with solar roads, such as the significant cost compared to traditional asphalt, and the fact that the road really needs to be aimed in the sun’s direction for the best results. It appears it will be more likely this technology will be used as a supplement rather than as a primary energy-producing solution.

Related: Valet proposes a prefab parklet system for Milan’s roads 

graphic of piezoelectric roads

Piezoelectric roads

Unlike solar roads, piezoelectric roads produce energy thanks to a material that is mixed in beneath the surface of the road. The crystals actually absorb the energy transfer from the weight of the tires on the road’s surface. The resulting electricity can be funneled into the local grid or used on the road’s surface and surrounding area to power LED lights and smart technology.

graphic of LED light roads

LED roads

LED technology could replace the painted lines on roadways, improving visibility in all weather conditions. In conjunction with smart technology, the lights could also alert drivers to lane closures with warnings centralized in each lane. Sensors, pressure plates and security cameras with motion-capture technology are all being integrated into LED systems to prompt lane changes or signal danger ahead. LED roads can also improve energy efficiency by only lighting up when cars drive on them.

graphic of electric road

Electric roads

Where solar and piezoelectric roads can provide power to the city grid, electric roads create a surface that charges electric vehicle batteries as they drive, eliminating the need to stop for charging or worry about range restrictions. In current trials, there are still some kinks to work out, but if the innovation continues, electric roads will revolutionize the EV industry.

graphic of a self-repairing road

Self-repairing roads

Scientists and municipalities are experimenting with materials that self-repair the surface of asphalt. Currently being trialed in The Netherlands and China, self-repairing roads are made up of a special mixture that will automatically melt and reform to fill holes in the surface when a damage sensor is alerted. This technology can be used in conjunction with piezoelectric crystals beneath the surface.

Repairs may take around three hours, which would require closing lanes but would eliminate the need for work crews onsite. According to Compare the Market, “It’s estimated that having worldwide self-repairing roads could reduce global emissions by 16% and lower infrastructure spending by 32%.”

graphic of car using technology on smart road to avoid other cars

Smart road networks

Smart technology allows different systems to communicate with each other. This can mean a software program that chats with self-driving cars to warn of obstacles ahead or a dialogue with an LED system that initiates alerts on the road’s surface. Smart innovations can improve traffic flow, especially during peak times, and provide a clear lane for emergency vehicles.

+ Compare the Market

Images via Compare the Market and Florian Kurz

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