“The connected road is for tomorrow”, said in February 2014 Frédéric Cuviller, Minister in charge of transportation. Our roads will not escape the disruptive invasion of nanotechnology, big data and the progressive digitalization of our environment. What are the roads of tomorrow that will change our transport?
In this movement, IFSTTAR, the French Institute of Science and Technology for Transport, involved in the European project Forever Open Road, gave the portrait of “roads of the 5th generation – 5RG”: roads re-thinking the road signals and the organization of them, green roads, that provide positive energy, roads with alternative materials, smart roads that self-diagnose, and finally connected roads for better security of their own users.
These roads that rethink the signaling …
How to deal with expenses related to the maintenance of signaling and the road lighting? The studio Roosegaarde and Heijmans found the solution thanks to its SMART HIGHWAY photo luminescent highway project, developed in 2014 in the Netherlands. Designed by the designer Daan Roosegaarde, this sustainable and interactive stretch of road has been reflected around the principle of absorption of sunlight by bitumen. At nightfall, the markings painted on the ground and the photoluminescent light up and they can shine for about 10h. A second painting could also help to indicate the risk of ice to the driver when the strips detect very low temperatures.
– The green roads: a new source of positive energy
France distinguished itself in December 2016 with the inauguration of the first “global” solar road: 1 km of solar panels covering a main road of the Orne. Wattway, the photovoltaic road, is the new French innovation, patented after 5 years of research conducted by Colas, world leader in transport infrastructure and the National Institute of Solar Energy. The objective of this project: “Make the road, the energy of tomorrow.” The panel-covered section could generate public electricity for a city of 5,000 inhabitants according to the project carriers. However, it must be remembered that the amount of the work remains unfortunately prohibitive: 5.2 million euro financed by the Ministry of the Environment.
This initiative is however not the first of its kind. In 2014, the Dutch have put in service the Solaroad north of Amsterdam: a solar cycling track taken by 2,000 cyclists per day.
Moreover, in the United States, Julie and Scott Brusaw, a couple of Californians, have been working for 10 years on the “Solar Rodways”, a road equipped with solar panels with a range of technologies and thinking of equipping a part of Route 66 in Missouri.
– The alternative roads to bitumen
Several projects have focused on recyclable materials as an alternative to traditional bitumen based on the fossil hydrocarbons and pollutants:
The Algoroute project co-financed by the Pays de la Loire Region has resulted in the production of a biobitum based on micro-algae residues “.
Another project, the PlasticRoad, carried by the Dutch company VolkerWessels has tackled the problem: to end up with the polluting asphalt and the recycling. The idea: to create a road from recycled plastic materials. The PlasticRoad, whose prototype was made at the end of 2017, lasts 3 times longer and is 4 times lighter than traditional roads and withstands temperatures of -40 to 80 degrees Celsius. Its manufacturing time is also 70% faster: the modular segments are manufactured in the factory and then placed on their sand bed.
According to Simon Jorritsma, advisor for new developments and special techniques at InfraLinq, a subsidiary of VolkerWessels, “plastic is a very sustainable alternative and opens the door to all sorts of other innovations, such as electricity generation, road heating, less noisy rolling surfaces and the modular construction ”
Intelligent, the PlasticRoad could adapt to bike lane and allow the passage of cable networks, ducts, pipes and it would drain the water from the weather.
In the same way, the blocks could be removed, crushed and rebuilt almost indefinitely, while emptying the oceans of the plastic that fills them!
Even more innovative, and for several years, the Dutch University of Delft seeks a solution that would allow roads to repair themselves and even to power electric vehicles with a bitumen that contains conductive steel fibers and The University of Ghent in Belgium, on its part, is working on a concrete composed of “superabsorbent” polymers able to seal cracks in concrete, an innovation capable of protecting structures such as bridges or tunnels. The maintenance costs of roads and structures would be significantly reduced.
– The smart roads that self-diagnose
Equipped with sensors and measurement tools, the new connected roads will be able to provide information on their temperature, their rate of deformation, and the road traffic. Thanks to the embedded technologies and wireless terminals, to the contribution of users via their smartphones, the data collected will allow a support for their more efficient maintenance and improved traffic management. The giants like Eurovia (Vinci), Colas (Bouygues) and Eiffage also rely on innovation to reconvert the roads and to give a new breath to the sector of road construction.
Their Smartvia project enables a real-time assessment of pavement damage by measuring the temperature, pressure, humidity and the deformation in order to prevent advanced damages.
– The connected routes that interact with their users
The connected road is already a reality in the UK where Vinci won a € 65 million contract to turn a fraction of the M5 into a smart route. Ultimately, these roads will be able to guide vehicles without drivers. In France, the Bretagne region was chosen to test a system of “Intelligent Cooperative Transport” since the end of July 2016 between Rennes in St Brieuc and Rennes in Nantes. The objective of the pilot project (Scoop System) launched by the Interdepartmental Directorate of Roads in partnership with PSA and Renault is to prevent the danger zones through wired terminals connected to the dashboards of cars.
However a study in 2015 on “the road of the future” by the CAS Institute on behalf of Motorways and Tunnel of Mont Blanc (AMTB) with French, Italian and Dutch populations shows that the green road is seen as an unavoidable challenge for the French (44% of French people aged 18 to 24), the innovations of the connected car does not seem to arouse the same enthusiasm while 60% of French, 53% of Dutch and 43% of Italians are not in favor of the driverless car. But the future is already here!