Cars in 2018 are a lot smarter and safer than cars were back in 1968. So why is it then that motorways haven`t changed at all despite the astonishing technological progress that has been made and is still being made.
For instance, why aren`t there road markings that change in order to better accommodate the flow of traffic? Why aren`t there more road signs that automatically light up at night?
The future is now and it`s not just the smartphone. There are smart watches, smart refrigerators, and smart cars. These smart cars are going to help people more safely and easily commute through smart cities, so where are the smart roads?
Specifically, these are roads that can predict the needs of drivers and adjust accordingly. These are roads that are also environmentally sound, being able to potentially even charge our smart cars. Most of all, the roads will make driving far safer.
Does it all seem like Science Fiction? Well, it shouldn´t—roads are going to get smart sooner than you might´ve thought.
Let´s Think About Roads for a Minute
At the risk of being overly pedantic, let´s break down what a road is by definition. A road is there to help us get from point A to B is not only the most efficient but also in the safest way possible.
It all seems so simple, so why does the road need to be improved? To understand why technology needs to make roads smarter, we have to understand what Paul Gao, Dominik Wee, Detlev Mohr, and Hans-Werner Kaas of McKinsey&Company refer to as the four disruptive technology-driven trends in the automotive sector which are self-driving vehicles, increased electrification, diverse mobility (commuters using more than one vehicle to reach their final destination) and connectivity.
There are other factors that need to be considered too going forward. There is the threat of auto-terrorism, for instance, and anyone who has followed the news at all in the last few years is well aware that vehicle ramming attacks are a novel and horrifying modus operandi for those who wish to inflict maximum damage without having access to an aeroplane or even firearms. Many councils are integrating security bollards into pathways, along busy thoroughfares to make their citizens feel safer
Councils in towns and cities are looking into this issue seriously, and companies like Advance System are already rolling out Anti-Terrorist vehicle blocking systems.
Other Key Features of Smart Roads
Although technological transformation has been swift in most areas related to transportation, it´s been surprisingly sluggish when it comes to the roads themselves. A road today is essentially the same as a road was decades ago—asphale and/or concrete that`s pressed into a smooth and solid surface. Road markings are then painted onto the road, and some reflective strips are also affixed to it, and that`s basically all there is to it.
This is starting to change, however, and it`s about time. The technological disruption is real and transportation authorities in major cities all over the world (it`s not just North America, Western Europe, and Japan) are realising that you can`t have a smart city without smart roads.
Fortunately, the technology is already here and many of the same components and strategies that make watches, cars, and other devices more intelligent can also be applied to roads.
What we can expect is that roads will become more animated and dynamic as the current static and inanimate roads simply become practical, if not outright dangerous. To that end, what we expect in the next few years is for roads to have more sensors, more data capture technology, and the ability to respond to changes in the weather (extra traction when it`s raining, for example). In essence, roads will be able to communicate with cars, trucks, motorcycles, bicycles and with the city at large.
Innovation That’s Already Here
South Korea already has roads that charge electric vehicles. They`ve had them since 2013 when the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology implemented the first electronic bus route in Gumi, a city with a population of nearly 400,000 in the country`s Southeast.
This is not a situation where there are trolleys on a fixed track; these are electronic buses that are charged by the road along certain routes. The project`s goal was to have the buses able to travel greater distances without having to constantly stop at charging stations at fixed locations.
This same technology is being tested elsewhere, in the United Kingdom, for instance, where trials overseen by Highways England started in 2015.