Building of the week – the smart highway

This week’s building of the week isn’t a building per se. It’s a 500 metre stretch of road near Oss in the Netherlands, currently serving as a demonstration project for a radical idea – glow in the dark roads.

We use a huge amount of electricity lighting roads so that people can drive at night. That’s expensive, but we’d rather not turn them off and drive in complete darkness. So how about glow in the dark road markings that clearly show the edges of the road? That’s what Dutch designer has proposed and is now piloting. The lines at the edges and centre of the road have been painted in photo-luminescent paint that absorbs sunlight during the day and glows through the night, making it safe enough to switch off street lighting without losing visibility and safety.

Britain and many other places already use ‘cat’s eye’ reflectors to mark roads at night. The advantage of the glow in the dark option is that it can just be painted on, which is a whole lot easier than individually fitting thousands of cats eyes. It’s also cheaper, which makes it a more accessible technology for developing countries.

Glow in the dark road markings are just one aspect of Roosegaarde’s smart highways. Another idea is to activate lighting as it’s needed. Lighting roads is particularly wasteful in the early hours of the morning when the roads are very quiet. Rather than illuminate empty roads, what if cars activated the lights they needed as they went along? Better yet, could they power the lights they required? Roosegarde imagines small turbines that capture the wind turbulence of passing cars to run small lights at the roadside.

We tend to use signs to tell us what we need to know, but the surface of the road could be used to communicate too. The smart highway has a dynamic painted surface that responds to conditions and highlights hazards. For example, if the temperature drops low enough, big snowflake images appear on the road to warn drivers of ice.

The most radical suggestion in the smart highway plan is to have electric car priority lanes that recharge them on the go, using wireless induction. That one I’m not so sure about, but it’s an interesting idea.

“For a long time, we have had super innovative cars, but really ‘dumb roads'” say the , describing Roosegarde’s work. Perhaps it’s time we looked at them with fresh eyes. I doubt everything in the smart highway project will become reality, but it’s a creative re-imagining what roads can be in the 21st century.


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