A new report lays out the innovations we could see on our roads in the future
Google’s self-driving vehicles have shown that they can recognise and respond to roadworks, level crossings, complex intersections and a variety of communications with cyclists. For example, using laser imaging, the car can recognise a cyclist waving his hand, will expect the cyclist to move over and will not pass until it is safe to do so.
In 2014, Google launched their first scratch-built driverless car; the vehicle has no steering wheel or pedals, and a top speed of 25mph (40km/h). The company aims to build 100 of the electric vehicles for testing. The cars will be equipped with two buttons — one to start the vehicle and one for panic stop.
Drone delivery system
US company Matternet is designing a drone delivery network for regions, particularly in low-income countries, where a road network doesn’t exist or is unreliable. In such areas, lightweight, autonomous drones could be the fastest and most cost-effective method for delivering food, medicine, and other necessities to isolated communities. Matternet proposes a system of base stations where drones could rapidly switch batteries or payloads with other drones and then continue through the network of base stations to their drop-off or collection point. According to Matternet, this cheaper and more environmentally friendly transport system could be a substitute for expensive investments in road infrastructure.
Driverless car interiors
Driverless vehicle technology means that passengers could spend their time in a more meaningful way whilst travelling. As the focus will be internal to the vehicle, therewill be more emphasis on the passenger experience. Swiss company Rinspeed has proposed one vision of this driverless future with its Xchange concept car. Rinspeed transformed the interior of an electric Tesla Model S with seats that swivel, tilt and slide into 20 positions, a wide-screen television in the rear and an Italian espresso maker in the centre console.
The Solar Roadways project, the brainchild of Scott and Julie Brusaw, aims to replace standard asphalt roads, parking spaces, pavements and bike paths with advanced solar panels that generate clean and renewable power. The panels also contain LED lighting, heating elements to melt snow, inductive charging capability for electric vehicles while driving, and even some storm water management abilities. The project more than doubled its original crowdfunding goal of US$1 million through site Indiegogo, raising US$2,200,886 to take it to the next phase of development.
Synchronised traffic signals
Los Angeles, USA, is the first major city in the world to fully synchronise all its traffic signals. The Automated Traffic Surveillance and Control system is one of the world’s most comprehensive traffic systems for alleviating traffic. The city has synchronised all 4,400 of its traffic signals by using magnetic sensors in the road to measure the flow of traffic. The system also uses cameras and a centralised computer system which receives information from the sensor network and automatically makes adjustments to traffic flow.
Smart and dynamic highways
Snowflakes, temperature sensitive roads and glow in the dark lighting. The Smart Highway, by Studio Roosegaarde and civil engineering firm Heijmans, is a concept to develop more dynamic highways. The aim is to make roads that are safer and more sustainable by using interactive lights, smart energy and road signs that adapt to specific traffic conditions.
Automated bicycle storage
In Tokyo, where space is at a premium, Japanese construction company Giken has developed an underground bicycle park for secure storage and to relieve street clutter.
Members place their bike on a runway and use a membership card to access the parking. The automated system then conveys the bike to a slot underground in 15 seconds. Bikes are retrieved and returned to users in a similar amount of time.
Self-healing concrete surfaces
Researchers at the University of Bath, Cardiff University and the University of Cambridge are working on a self-healing concrete that uses bacteria to seal cracks that can lead to decay and collapse. The aim is to create a concrete blend containing bacteria in microcapsules that will germinate if water seeps through a crack. The bacteria will produce limestone as they multiply, sealing the crack before the water can cause structural damage. Self-healing concrete could vastly increase the life of concrete structures, remove the need for repairs, and reduce the lifetime cost of a structure by up to 50%. As over 7% of the world’s CO2emissions are due to cement production, extending the lifetime of structures and removing the need for repairs could have a significant environmental impact.
Smart cars and vehicle-to-vehicle communication
Cars of the future will be smarter and safer. They will be able to monitor the alertness of the driver and communicate with each other to avoid collisions. On-board computers are already creating a huge amount of data and as big data analytics improve, further trends and inefficiencies will be identified.
Vehicles will also be able to communicate with each other about traffic, weather and road conditions and warn the driver about potential safety hazards. In the future, systems could automatically take over braking or steering if they sense an imminent accident. Advanced sensors within the vehicle could also monitor a driver’s heart rate, eye movements and brain activity to detect issues ranging from drowsiness to a heart attack.
Automated, space saving car parks
Volkswagen’s car towers at Autostadt in Wolfsburg, Germany, are 60m tall parking towers of glass and galvanised steel. They house 800 cars and are connected to the Volkswagen factory by a 700m underground tunnel. In the vertical carparks, cars are lifted into position via mechanical arms that move vehicles in and out of their bays at a speed of two metres per second. Eito & Global Inc is a Japanese company that makes circular automated Robot-ParkTM parking systems which can accommodate the same number of cars in less than half the space of surface parking. The company also makes cylinder-shaped automated underground parking facilities that are earthquake resistant and cheaper to build than conventional garages.
These are form part of a report on the future of highways by engineering company Arup.