A smart highway that promises to save energy while improving safety was unveiled along a 500-meter stretch in the Netherlands last week. Interactive and self-sustaining, it’s being called the “Route 66 of the future.”
The project is designed and developed by Daan Roosegaarde and Dutch engineering firm Heijmans Infrastructure. Earlier this year, we posted about other Studio Roosegaarde projects: houseplant reading lights and bioluminescent streetlamps. Now, this glow-in-the-dark technology actually exists on the N329 highway in Oss, about 100 kilometers southeast of Amsterdam.
The road markings are made with paint containing photo-luminescent powder that charges in the daytime and then releases a green glow at nighttime. Roosegaarde tells Wired UK that Heijmans had managed to take its luminescence to the extreme: "It's almost radioactive.”
If the glow does last the whole eight hours it’s supposed to, this could mean dispensing with energy-guzzling, maintenance heavy streetlights. “The government is shutting down streetlights at night to save money,” Roosegaarde tells BBC. "I was completely amazed that we somehow spend billions on the design and R&D of cars but somehow the roads -- which actually determine the way our landscape looks -- are completely immune to that process.”
But will the pilot project lead to implementation along every unlit road? “It would be a big investment so if safety improvement is the target then we need hard evidence about how this compares to what we already have and to back up any safety claims," Pete Thomas from Loughborough University's Transport Safety Research Centre says. The UK Highways Agency says it will be watching the trial, and one of their concerns is how the markings will work during the winter when daylight hours are fewer. Also, we’ll need to know how well the paint holds up to normal wear-and-tear.
Studio Roosegaarde’s complete “Smart Highway” concept, first proposed in 2012, also includes temperature sensitive technology: Snowflakes light up the ground when the road gets slippery. This was not included in the Netherlands trial.
Image: Studio Roosegaarde