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The Future of Highway Engineering



Have you driven on the M3 recently, between Farnborough and the M25? If you have, congratulations. You’ve driven on a Smart Motorway. This 13.4 miles stretch of motorway between junctions 2 and 4a has 113 electronic signs and signals, 45 CCTV cameras, 12 overhead info gantries 12 emergency areas and 55 radar detectors. Together they are supposed to create vital extra capacity, improve journey times and maintain high levels of road safety.

 It’s the future of highway engineering. Across the world, governments and industries are thinking hard about how to change the design and construction of highways - to adjust to the increasing worldwide adoption of sustainable materials and renewable energy. The growth in highways and traffic across the globe is phenomenal. Today, there are more than 1 billion cars driving on more than 33 million miles of roads. Enough to drive halfway to Mars. The number of cars in the world is also expected to double by 2040.

 The way we build roads today can’t keep up with these developments, from the materials being used, the methods of constructions and the cars using them. Let’s have a closer look at some of the developments in highway engineering that are taking place right now.

 Reactive line markings - Line markings on roads can be painted with glow-in-the-dark paint. The paint would ‘charge’ during the day and glow during darkness. This will substantially reduce costs on electricity, and have less of an impact on the environment.

 Dynamic paint - Paint can be used on the roads that reacts to changes in outdoor conditions, such as a snowflake symbol becoming visible only when it reaches 5°C or below.

 Sustainable energy powered roads - Lights, signage and signals on the road will be powered by sustainable energy. This can be solar, wind or even kinetic. Kinetic roads use a rubber-like paving technology that converts kinetic energy produced by moving vehicles into electricity.

 New surface materials - Roads can now be surfaced using an innovative new asphalt mix that contains recycled plastic pellets. This material is believed to last much longer than the average road, meaning not only will it reduce the carbon footprint of road construction, but also the price of road repair.

 Charging lanes - The future belongs to electric cars. The UK government recently announced a ban on the sale of all diesel and petrol cars and vans from 2040. Last week, Shell announced it acquired New Motion, a Netherlands based operator of electric vehicle charging points. They own more than 30,000 private electric charging points for electric vehicles (EV). Shell plans to roll out their technology across the majority of Shell’s 45,000 branded service stations globally. The next logical step is that EV cars can charge automatically on wireless charging lanes. Roads will have a separate lane with electric cables buried underneath, generating electromagnetic fields, which will be picked up by a coil inside the car and converted into electricity.

 All these new technologies can be brought under the umbrella of “Intelligent Highways”. It’s a great development towards building a more sustainable future with less pollution. And it also addresses the fundamental issue of how to deal with the scenario when the world has consumed all of its natural oil reserves. And we haven’t even touched on the biggest polluter in this, the car. There are many advances in car technology which will further advance the concept of the intelligent highway. But we will leave that for another blog post.

 Have you driven on the M3 lately? What was your experience? Does it feel smart? Share your experience in the comments section below. 

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