Five of the best Smart Highway featuresApril 21st, 2017
With the UN predicting that as much as 66% of the world’s population will be living in cities by 2050, smart highway technology will be a critical element in urban areas to reduce infrastructure strain and increase road safety by easing the density of traffic flow. Moreover, while autonomous vehicles and Smart Cities currently dominate discussions on the next generation of urban infrastructure and transportation, examples of innovative smart roads are already visible across the UK, France and The Netherlands. Smart highways promise to be the third link of the chain in the fight against increasing congestion and carbon emissions, helping to ease the flow of traffic, reduce accidents, and in some cases, viable sources of renewable energy in their own right.
Like the term ‘Smart City’, ‘Smart Highway’ incorporates a number of different technologies. Below are five of the most compelling examples of Smart Highway technologies that are expected to proliferate over the next decade.
A Smart Highway utilises sensor-based lighting which is activated only when movement is detected. Smart streetlamps are proving to be wildly popular with local governments in Europe and are said to be capable of saving up to 70% from the usual cost of public lighting. Phosphorescent paint has also been used in The Netherlands to create a ‘glow in the dark’ lighting effect that absorbs sunlight in the day before becoming luminous at night. This is a cost-effective and environmentally friendly way of keeping road boundaries highlighted and is resistant to rain and fading.
Much like Amazon Go, which doesn’t require customers to physically pay for their items, smart highways can charge drivers automatically for driving past toll points through connected, M2M technology. This promises to reduce journey times and traffic bottlenecks, whilst saving local authorities large sums by removing the need for toll booth workers.
Variable Speed Limits
UK motorways such as the M1 and M25 use ‘variable speed limits’ to control the flow of traffic in order to even out traffic density and improve safety. If sensors on the side of the road find that one segment of the highway is becoming congested, central control can respond by lowering speed limits to ensure the motorway continues to move as free-flowing as possible. This process creates a smoother traffic flow, prevents accidents, and reduces both noise and the concentration of carbon emissions in each area.
Photovoltaic pavements and roads are still in their infancy. In 2016 a village in Normandy unveiled the first road with solar panelling at a cost of £4.2m. However, 1km of panelled road is expected to produce 280 MWh of electricity per year, enough to power the entire village’s street lights. If this experiment proves to be a success the French government will unveil further solar roads.
Another way the smart highway could generate renewable energy in the future is through piezoelectric-based technology. While this technology is currently in its infancy, it has been theorised that smart highways could include built in panels capable of converting and storing kinetic energy from the cars driving over them. In addition to this, smart highways may eventually be able to charge electric vehicles as they drive, forming a feedback loop of renewable energy.