A smart road design that features glow in the dark tarmac and illuminated weather indicators will be installed in the Netherlands from mid-2013.
“One day I was sitting in my car in the Netherlands, and I was amazed by these roads we spend millions on but no one seems to care what they look like and how they behave,” the designer behind the concept, Daan Roosegaarde, told Wired.co.uk. “I started imagining this Route 66 of the future where technology jumps out of the computer screen and becomes part of us.”
The Smart Highway by Studio Roosegaarde and infrastructure management group Heijmans won Best Future Concept at the Dutch Design Awards, and has already gone beyond pure concept. The studio has developed a photo-luminising powder that will replace road markings — it charges up in sunlight, giving it up to ten hours of glow-in-the-dark time come nightfall. “It’s like the glow in the dark paint you and I had when we were children,” designer Roosegaarde explained, “but we teamed up with a paint manufacture and pushed the development. Now, it’s almost radioactive”.
Special paint will also be used to paint markers like snowflakes across the road’s surface — when temperatures fall to a certain point, these images will become visible, indicating that the surface will likely be slippery. Roosegaarde says this technology has been around for years, on things like baby food — the studio has just upscaled it.
The first few hundred metres of glow in the dark, weather-indicating road will be installed in the province of Brabant in mid-2013, followed by priority induction lanes for electric vehicles, interactive lights that switch on as cars pass and wind-powered lights within the next five years.
The idea is to not only use more sustainable methods of illuminating major roads, thus making them safer and more efficient, but to rethink the design of highways at the same time as we continue to rethink vehicle design. As Studio Roosegaarde sees it, connected cars and internal navigation systems linked up to the traffic news represent just one half of our future road management systems — roads need to fill their end of the bargain and become intelligent, useful drivers of information too.
“Research on smart transportation systems and smart roads has existed for over 30 years — call any transportation and infrastructure specialist and you’ll find out yourself,” Studio Roosegaarde comunications partner Emina Sendijarevic told Wired.co.uk. “What’s lacking is the implementation of those innovations and making those innovations intuitive and valuable to the end-consumers — drivers. For this, a mentality change needs to take place within a country and its people, but also within a company such as Heijmans.
“This is a story that goes beyond the ‘Smart Highway’ as such — it’s about the fact that Heijmans and Roosegaarde are not going to wait any longer for innovations to find their way through the political system, but will start building this highway now.”
All together, the studio has around 20 ideas that will eventually be rolled out and it has had inquiries from countries across the globe — “India is really keen on it; they have a lot of blackouts there, it would be hallelujah to them”.
Roosegaarde also hopes to take his designs to the US west coast, where companies like Google already have autonomous vehicles driving round their campuses: “It amazes me that most innovation in the west coast is screen based — I always imagined that technology jumping out of our screens and becoming part of our environment. It’s incredibly important we keep imagining what our reality is going to look. A lot of people have told me along the way that what I wanted could not be done, and it’s my job to prove them wrong.”
The Roosegaarde design promise comes as UK authorities announce that lights on motorways, residential streets and footpaths will be turned off or dimmed from as early as 9pm to save money (hundreds of thousands of pounds, in some cases) and to meet green targets.
Some councils are, however, taking on the burden of installing new lights with dimmers, the cost of which will mean they will need to wait four to five years before they recoup the money — by which time, they could have conserved cash for more efficient and safer ways to save on lighting costs. A Sunday Telegraph report has also revealed that nearly 5,000km of motorways and trunk roads in England are already unlit, 75km have their lights switched off between midnight and 5am and 73 percent of 134 councils surveyed switch off or dim lights, or plan to. Fully switching the lights off on major roads saved the Highways Agency just £400,000 in 2011.
Paul Watters, head of roads policy at the AA, told the Telegraph: “We do know that most accidents happen in the dark. It’s also comforting for people, especially if they arrive back from somewhere in the night, when they have got a late train. There are also suggestions that it increases crime. So it may save money in terms of energy but then you have to look at the cost in terms of security, safety and accidents, it may actually be more.”
According to a report by car insurance company Zurich Connect, there is an 11 percent increase in claims immediately following the winter clock change in the UK, when nights get darker earlier.
Images By: PhotoStudio Roosegaarde