Smart Roads: The Road to the Future

Can our roads be smarter—do more than just get us from one destination to another? What if our roads were able to have their own lighting and could charge during the day and function at night? Can we make roads that have this type of technology—the ability to become smart?

Anytime someone hears the term “smart” describing an object, one assumes the object has the capability to interact with modern technologies. So, when we hear terms like smart watches, smart phones and smart cars, we envision objects that have interconnectivity, thinking capabilities (or the ability to use algorithms) and mobility.

It is possible to have roads that use modern technologies to anticipate human behavior and needs on the roads? Can we have roads that enhance our safety, charge our cars, and preserve the environment?  Is it possible to create roads that will transform our lives by improving the way we travel?

Yes, it will be—a lot sooner than you think.

The Purpose of a Road

Most common roads have no real technology associated with them. It’s either plain concrete or asphalt that has been molded into a flat surface that makes it capable of handling traveling cars. The only sophistication these roads have as far as technology is concerned are the traffic signals that may be painted onto them. Other than that, there is no technology involved in the function of the common road.

We depend on roads to get us to our destinations in the quickest and safest way imaginable. They help us conduct business, and they help us stay physically connected to others. Roads make going on adventures a lot easier because they connect us to various regions in the world.

For most people, that’s all roads are expected to do and nothing more. But can our roads be a lot smarter than that?

Smart Roads are the Way of the Future

As the world becomes increasingly automated, there is no surprise that our roads will also catch up with the times. McKinsey & Company stress this point by remarking in their 2016 report that “digitization, increasing automation, and new business models have revolutionized other industries, and automotive will be no exception”. In other words, smart roads will become the most common way humans travel in the future.

What Makes a Smart Road “Smart”?

Our society is demanding better, safer and efficient roads, and now we are taking a fresh look at how to design them.  Last year’s paper on smart roads by the Smart Transportation Alliance concluded that there is no such thing as having “a smart city without a smart road … together [they] can provide citizens with smart mobility”.

Transportation committees need to consider how smart mobility will reshape how we build future roads to accommodate our smart cities. The technology to make it happen is available now, and we see it in action in many of our cities, cars, phones and watches.

Unlike the lifeless roads of tradition, the smart road will have more “life.” It will have smart technology that collects and shares data, and it will have various sensors that respond to various variables (like climate change and road obstruction/damage). It will also be connected to travelers and communicate with cities, traffic signals and vehicles.

Thanks to the technology of smart roads, our environment will be a better place. Roads will be safer, and our commutes will be more efficient and quicker thanks to having roads that “think.” The roads of yesterday will pale in comparison to the improved quality of life where the smart roads will take us.

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