Where We’re Going, We Need Smart Roads

August 6, 2020

Sensors monitor the surface of smart roads in real time to detect accidents, adapt to weather conditions, generate electricity and much more.

Anatomy of a Smart Road

Rather than traditional paving, smart roads are built with interlocking concrete slabs. Inlaid fiber optic mesh within the slabs enables sensitivity. Like a tablet’s touch screen, this mesh identifies a car’s tire positions. Routers within each slab transmit data, and ports at the slab’s exterior allow for easy replacement or upgrading of sensors. Sensors within the concrete collect additional data such as temperature, traffic flow and vehicle weight. Smart roads may contain additional features, like solar panels for energy harvesting.

Vehicle Detection

With the ability to detect the position of vehicles on the road, smart roads can also tell when a vehicle has driven off the road or crashed. Smart roads can send immediate alerts to emergency services with a vehicle’s exact location. They can also alert drivers via smart phone or dash app of accidents, traffic jams or weather hazards.

Sensors in smart roads can weigh freight vehicles while in motion. Since trucks don’t have to stop to be weighed, their efficiency increases. Any detected overloaded trucks are instantly identified, and authorities are alerted. Smart roads can also detect vehicle speed and alert authorities to violations and illegal driving maneuvers.

Road Condition Detection

Smart road sensors can detect snow, ice and surface water. Hazard alerts can be sent to approaching drivers, and metal coils within the concrete or asphalt can heat to melt ice and snow. Such a system has already been tested in Sweden and Norway on small roads and remains in development for larger highways. Sensors can also monitor infrastructure conditions and detect potholes as well as general road deterioration. With digital road signs, smart roads can display variable speed limits according to weather or traffic conditions, encouraging drivers to maintain safe speeds.

Energy Management & Sustainability

The Ray, an 18-mile roadway in Georgia, uses a solar-paneled surface to collect energy. The road also includes a tire safety monitor. Cars drive over the sensor, and drivers receive a text regarding their tires’ pressure and thread depth. The Ray project hopes to expand and implement more sustainable technology, including rubber roads and a vehicle-to-everything connected data system.

Sweden has opened the world’s first road for charging electric vehicles. An electric rail is imbedded in the road and extends for 1.2 miles. An arm attaches the rail to the vehicle and charges the battery as the vehicle progresses. The project plans to extend rail mileage, increase the use of electric vehicles and decrease fossil fuel dependence.

The Future of Smart Roads

Smart roadways are in the early implementation stages, but the use and market for such technology is already expected to grow over 18% from 2019 to 2026.