Contributed by Giles Kirkland
Over the past century, we humans have experienced mind-bending advances in technology that have transformed how we live, travel, communicate, and experience life. A new wave of technological breakthroughs will be under our wheels.
The development of futuristic smart and sustainable roads will help make automotive travel safer, smarter, and greener. Not all the exploration will result in practical innovation, but here are some exciting areas of new research.
Harvesting energy with piezoelectric technology
As Nikola Tesla reminded us, energy is all around us. Capturing and “recycling” the energy that exists anywayis the ultimate in energy efficiency.
The State of California is funding a breakthrough technology called piezoelectric energy harvesting, which uses piezoelectric transducers. That is, a special type of crystalline material covers the road surface. When put under pressure from passing tires, it can convert that mechanical kinetic energy into electricity. The energy harvested from the passing cars on this kind of sustainable road could then becomes useful to power electric streetlights and signage.
Solar roadway systems
Solar panels capture the power of the sun and use it to power lighting and electric signs. Scientists and renewable energy experts have begun to explore something else. Solar electrodes can be embedded into the surface of roadways in colder climates to melt ice and snow.
Solar roadways will help save lives while also reducing the electrical costs of keeping drivers safe. Photovoltaic cells embedded in the asphalt during road construction may also be used to charge electrical devices inside vehicles.
Charging electric vehicles while driving using inductive charging lanes
More electric vehicles are hitting the road each day. Owners find that available charging stations are few and far between, especially on long road trips. So why not build sustainable roads with inductive charging lanes specifically created for them?
Electromagnetic induction constantly recharges electric vehicles while driving in these specially designed highway lanes. High-tech coils embedded in the road’s surface automatically recharge the batteries of electric cars and trucks as they pass over the surface. Sweden has implemented this technology as part of the country’s plan to become completely independent from fossil fuel use by the year 2030.
Glow-in-the-dark, electroluminescent roadway paint
Conventional street lights contribute greatly to light pollution. They also cost too much to light roads in rural areas. Electroluminescent, or “glow-in-the-dark” paint can help illuminate dark highways and advance the energy efficiency of the world’s roadways.
This paint incorporates photo-luminizing powder that uses the sun’s rays to “charge up” during the daylight hours. It can illuminate those dimly lit roads for as much as ten hours at night. Thus sustainable roads can enhance visibility and improves safety.
Sensitive smart roads connect with drivers and engineers alike
The use of embedded wireless sensors will make roadways smarter than ever thought possible. They will provide vital data regarding traffic volume and flow, road temperatures, as well as the weight load demands the blacktop must endure.
All of this data helps engineers and planners develop better construction materials and methods. They will lead to sustainable roads that will meet future transportation demands. Sensors can also create interactive driving experiences, providing drivers with information about current driving conditions or hazards for safer driving.
Wind-powered street lamps
City streets and lonely country roads need to be properly lit for the safety of drivers, pedestrians, and passing wildlife. Wind-powered street lights and highway signs are practical anywhere, even in places where electrical lines are scarce or non-existent. Of course, even in the most modern of cities this sustainable technology is a welcome way to cut back on electric costs. Small wind turbines atop tall light poles, sometimes accompanied by solar panels, provide cost-effective power for brighter night driving.
Sustainable roads lead to progress
With over four million miles of roadways in the United States alone, the vast frontier for highway infrastructure innovation is wide open. Smart road technology and sustainable highway construction promise to transform the way we’ll drive and thrive in a post-fossil fuel world.
Giles Kirkland is an environmentally conscious car expert and clean technology advocate. Passionate about healthy lifestyle and smart solutions, he shares his knowledge with other drivers and sustainable living enthusiasts. You can find his articles on Twitter and at Oponeo. Most often Giles writes about electric vehicles, safe driving and alternative energy, as well as traveling and current issues from the automotive world.