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World’s first ‘smart roads’ to debut in the Netherlands

For all the improvements in road safety which we’ve made since the invention of the automobile, most of these have been on the cars themselves, while the roads themselves haven’t really changed much. But that could all change soon, as the Dutch are working on a road network which will use new technology to make roads safer and more energy-efficient. These new “smart roads” are the brainchild of Daan Roosegaarde, and incorporate several different features.

The first part of these new roads is a more effective way of notifying motorists that there could be icy conditions. Though we have plenty of signs already which display such warnings, these stay up year-round, and don’t actually have much of anything to do the actual conditions at the time. The smart road will use a special paint which becomes visible only when the weather is cold enough for icing conditions, at which point, the snowflake symbols painted on the road will warn of potentially icy conditions. The next feature is also paint related. This is a new and very bright form of glow-in-the-dark paint which charges during the day from sunlight and can glow for as much as 10 hours during the night. This is simply to make the lane lines more visible, which has an obvious safety benefit.

These first two parts of the plan will start being put into effect in the middle of next year, but there are a few more parts to the plan which are a bit more radical, and will be tested over the next five years. These features will be used to make transportation on the whole a more energy-efficient process. This will start with small roadside turbines which will harness air from passing cars to power small ground-level street lights. Then there will a system whereby streetlights will be activated by motion sensors, only turning on when there are cars nearby and alleviating the need to keep all lights on all night. Last is an idea known as an “induction priority lane”. This would charge electric cars wirelessly as they drove over it. The idea being to make electric cars practical for longer trips and therefore encouraging their mainstream adoption. Some of these ideas are quite ambitious, and it will be interesting to see if the technology can be made to work on a large scale, and if the obvious issue of cost will be a major hurtle.