The roads of the future will create music to warn drivers of a hazard on the road or of excess speed; they will turn vehicles into sources of energy to turn on streetlights; they will be able to tell us the weight of a lorry and automatically charge electric vehicles. Furthermore, their signs will have nothing to do with current ones; there will be intelligent crossings and will have advanced sensors and different communication devices that will make it possible to decrease rescue times as much as possible in the case of an accident. They will also ‘speak’ to drivers, warning them automatically of their violations behind the wheel. These are some of the technologies we could see on the roads around the world in a few years.
This is the outlook drawn up by a team of researchers from the Polytechnic University of Valencia, the University Centre for Defence of the University of Zaragoza and the National University of Tsing-Hua, in Taiwan. At the beginning of the year, they published a comprehensive study on the latest advances and technologic projects that are being carried out around the world. Of all these, ten of them stand out; innovations that will revolutionise our way of travelling… and the current idea we have of roads.
“Roads are increasingly intelligent, the installations from 30 years ago have nothing to do with current ones, and they will change a lot in coming decades. They will be much safer roads thanks to the progress of telecommunications, 5G and cloud computing, among other technologies. Furthermore, they will help decrease the environmental impact of vehicles. Some of the roads being presented in the study seem like science fiction, but they are not. All of them are being worked on somewhere in the world, and they are all technologically viable in our surroundings.” This was explained by Juan Carlos Cano, researcher for the Computer Network Group (GRC-DISCA) of the Polytechnic University of Valencia and one of the authors of the study.
In their study, the team analysed the projects being conducted in countries such as China, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Japan or Spain. In all of them, there is a common denominator: roads are no longer physical structures to transport people or goods, as they turn into a super-motorway of information, “with communications and intelligence capabilities that were unimaginable decades ago,” says professor Chai K. Toh, from the National University of Tsing Hua and member of the Royal British Academy of Sciences.
For Toh, considered the father of mobile ad hoc networks, in 20 years, roads will no longer exist as we know them today, they will cease being totally passive elements to become active. “They will start transforming into smart roads, with intelligent streetlights, intelligent crossings, wireless traffic signs that will provide information to drivers and will have systems for the automatic detection of accidents, as well as fast assistance for emergencies, among other novelties,” stresses professor Toh.
The ten main advances are the following: roads that store energy, musical roads, roads that weigh vehicles, roads that recharge electric vehicles, roads with wireless digital traffic signs, roads that detect traffic violations, roads that ‘speak’ (V2X), roads with intelligent crossings, roads that facilitate fast emergency rescues and roads with intelligent public lighting.
In the case, for example, of musical roads, there are already more than 30 in Japan, spread out across cities such as Hiroshima, Shizuoka, Oita, Gunman or Hokkaido. In the latter, the city’s engineers from the Institute for Industrial Research designed a project whereby the vehicles turn into tuning forks. “With resonance devices, spread across the surface of the road, as the vehicles cross them, they generate high or low notes and, at the same time, music.
“There are also some in South Korea, where the musical roads warn drivers, generating chords from a popular song; in Taiwan, on the “Dinglin Road” in Kinmen, the cars that travel at 50km/h generate a song from “The Olive tree”. And in New Mexico, on the historic Route 66 between Albuquerque and Tijeras, drivers can hear the song “America The Beautiful” when they reach 45 mph (72.4km/h)”, explains Chai K. Toh. Regarding charging roads, which can supply energy to vehicles, these are also a reality in countries such as South Korea, Sweden or the United Kingdom.
As well as roads that ‘talk’, there are increasing amounts of devices that makes it possible to connect motorways with vehicles, thanks to technologies such as V2X, V2V or VANET, which warn of hazards on the road, accidents, traffic jams or can even detect potentially dangerous drivers.
The technology can also help decrease response times in the case of an emergency, while increasing safety in manoeuvres such as overtaking. Precisely, one of the latest developments by the UPV team is a new application that offers the driver heightened safety when overtaking a lorry – or another vehicle that is larger than theirs. “Installed on mobile phones, with the back camera pointing at the windscreen and with the screen facing the driver, a video recorded by the vehicle in front is transmitted automatically to the vehicle behind, showing the traffic ahead so that the driver can decide whether it is safe to overtake or not,” adds Juan Carlos Cano.
The UPV researcher also says that the combination of information and communications, together with the development of autonomous vehicles – both cars and drones – already make it possible, and will do so even more in the future, to dynamically and efficiently manage traffic, which will also lead to increased safety. “Furthermore, drones will be able to warn vehicles that are approaching incidents such as accidents, landslides or road bumps, thus improving the safety of the driver and the passengers,” concludes Juan Carlos Cano.