If you thought smart cars were just another passing trend, prepare to be surprised. Smart road technology is coming to the U.S. to turn dangerous highways into accident-sensing touchpads.
According to NBC News, the U.S. could be seeing a future of roads studded with sensors capable of monitoring wear and tear. They’ll also be able to automatically summon help when an accident occurs and alert motorists of traffic jams.
The first smart roads will be coming to Colorado in a five-year test beginning this summer. The Department of Transportation will begin testing the road on a half-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 285.
The area is approximately 80 miles southwest of Denver.
The DOT will be covering the half-mile stretch with factory-made concrete slabs. These slabs feature Wifi connectivity and fiber optic cables which act as pressure sensors.
Tim Sylvester, the CEO of Integrated Roadways, says the new smart road technology will help to reduce car accidents and enhance road safety. Over the course of a four-year study by AAA, up to 200,000 car accidents on American roads were caused by dangerous debris.
“If you’ve driven off the road, smart pavements can detect when and where this happened and automatically send an alert to the emergency services to come help you,” said Sylvester. “This will rapidly shorten the time before people get help.”
Smart road technology may also be able to help in the case of hazardous emergencies. Compared to the 400 gallons of water the average family of four uses every day, more than 3 billion tons of hazardous materials are shipped every year. An accident involving hazardous materials could not only harm those involved in the accident, but also the surrounding environment.
The roads’ smart slabs will be able to connect to motorists’ cell phones and provide real-time information about road hazards and traffic jams. As cars become smarter and more tech-savvy, these smart slabs may be able to start sending real-time alerts to motorists through their vehicles rather than their cell phones.
“Smart pavement can make that determination and send that information directly into a vehicle,” said Peter Kozinski, the director of the RoadX Program, in an interview with The Denver Post. “Data is the new asphalt of transportation.”
Yet not everyone is a fan of the new smart road technology.
University of Maryland professor Charles Schwartz says the technology has potential, especially for those in remote rural areas. But the reliability of the road technology is questionable. If one of the cables break in the slabs, he asked, what happens to the rest of the network?
Smart roads are also far from cheap. An estimate from Integrated Roadways places the price of smart road technology at $4 million per lane per mile. That’s twice as much money as the average road.
“In terms of large-scale implementation across the highway network,” said Schwartz, “the costs would be high so the technology would have to prove that it can make a real difference to warrant that kind of investment.”
Sylvester says he believes the smart road technology is worth the investment. Not only would the smart sensors be able to reduce the risk of car accidents, he says, but businesses would also be able to use the traffic data to determine where to set up shop.
“This is valuable information,” Sylvester said. “And by using it to generate revenue, we could finance the expansion of the network across the nation.”