Imagine you’re driving and an animal or jaywalking pedestrian crosses the road ahead. The lane flashes a warning and changes colour, telling you to slow down. If an accident does happen, the road system itself sends a signal to authorities, and if there’s any damage to the asphalt, the road heals itself.
What might seem like something ripped from the world of Tron is not that far from reality.
In this article, we explore five exciting smart road technologies currently in development around the world, based on current research and development. We take a look at what they might look like and how they could revolutionise the way we get around in the future.
While an LED future-scape with all roads being covered in screens and lights sounds cool, traditional asphalt may still be necessary. One of the downsides is that once you build it, you still have to repair it – but what if the road could repair itself?
There are a couple of ways of achieving a self-repairing road:
- special asphalt mixtures that slowly fill cracks over time
- roads containing special nanoparticles that can be electrically activated
- mixing steel wool through asphalt and heating it with electromagnetic induction or microwaves.
This technology works by heating or charging the road, causing sections of the asphalt to melt, reform and establish new bonds that remain just as strong as it was previously.
It’s estimated that if the entire planet’s road network could self-repair, it would reduce global emissions by 16% and lower infrastructure spending by 32%.
Mixing steel wool with asphalt and using heat induction or microwaves is a promising method, with tests showing that even asphalt mixes including 1% steel fibres yield good results. This technology is being trialled in different parts of the world, including the Netherlands and China – the heating induction is also being tested in China as a way of melting snow.
By utilising sensors, the road itself can determine whether or not it needs repairs. The road system can then engage its self-repairing mechanism, which saves on the amount of roadwork required, thus reducing congestion.
Self-healing roads likely won’t be able to be driven on while they repair themselves, so some lane closures and roadworkers will still be required to help guide traffic, though ideally at a reduced level. As the road is heated and reformed, repairs can take roughly three hours (depending on conditions) to fill cracks and solidify.