Roads populated with autonomous cars, highway surfaces made of solar panels and concrete that automatically repairs damage – that’s a vision of highways of the future presented by engineering consultancy Arup.
Famous for designing the Sydney Opera House, the London-headquartered firm has released its forward-looking report envisioning how highways might look like around the middle of this century.
“Anticipating and researching future trends will help us move towards a connected, low-carbon future, where mobility solutions put users at the heart of design and potential challenges are addressed as early as possible,” said Tony Marshall, who leads Arup’s Global Highways group.
“The changes that this report suggests will provide safer, more reliable and more environmentally friendly highway infrastructure for generations to come.”
The report foresees Internet of Things will be a given in the future of road transportation, with fully autonomous cars roaming the roads guided by satellite systems and sophisticated communication technologies.
Due to the move away from fossil fuel-powered cars towards electric vehicles, future roads may be covered with thin-film solar panels allowing constant charging of the vehicle’s batteries while driving. Such electronic surfaces would also contain LED lighting to improve visibility in difficult conditions and in-built heating to melt snow and ice in winter.
Where plain old concrete would remain, it could be upgraded to allow self-healing properties – for example by using bacteria capable of filling cracks as soon as first damage occurs, preventing development of potholes.
To make road transportation safer, the future vehicles will be able to evaluate the surrounding traffic situation, adjusting speed to weather conditions and other possible safety hazards.
The roads itself could feed information to the intelligent cars and their drivers by, for example, providing immediate warning about decreasing temperatures. Arup envisions such warning could be provided by a temperature-sensitive paint on the road’s surface, which will generate giant snowflake-shaped warnings to indicate the risk of icy conditions.
The intelligent systems will allow increasing efficiency of busy highways (expected to become even busier in future). Cars connected to the Internet of Things will be able to travel closer to each other while not jeopardising safety as they will be able to promptly react to every change in the environment.
"While temperature-sensitive paint and solar surfaces may seem far-fetched, the innovations envisioned in this report are already being tested and piloted around the world,” Marshall said.
"They will change the way that we approach mobility and freight transport and will provide safer, more reliable and more environmentally friendly highway infrastructure for generations to come."
Apart from the changes to the infrastructure, Arup predicts that patterns of ownership will change in the coming years, with commuters more likely to purchase access to a vehicle rather than the vehicle itself.
In a continuation of current trends, Arup foresees, the number of cyclists will rise together with the number of cars, calling for dedicated cycling infrastructure.