Future roads will be shaped by solar roadways, self-healing concrete, and the “Internet of Things.”
According to the Future of Highways report from global engineering and design consultancy Arup, future highways will be made of self-healing, glow-in-the-dark materials and governed by sophisticated technologies that communicate with cars, road infrastructure, and GPS systems.
The report, which examines the implications of trends up to 2050, considers the effects of topics such as rapid urbanisation. By 2050, cities will be home to up to 75% of the world’s population. The Future of Highways examines why this increase in urban population necessitates a significant increase in capacity for individual mobility and freight transport. The report also considers how climate change, resource depletion, and behavioural changes will shape our roads in the future.
“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 soon as possible,” said Tony Marshall, Arup’s global highways business leader.
With a significant increase in the number of road users, it will be critical to reduce the impact and frequency of maintenance work.
The anticipated advancements in the development of materials such as self-healing concrete – which produces bacteria to fill cracks when concrete is damaged – could significantly reduce the cost of a structure while also creating a more resilient and sustainable infrastructure. Because concrete production currently accounts for 7% of global CO2 emissions, these savings could have a significant environmental impact.
Surfaces could be replaced with advanced solar panels that generate clean and renewable power and wirelessly charge electric cars while they are driving or parked, in addition to being self-healing, according to the report. LED lighting and heating elements to melt snow would also be included in the panels. Temperature-sensitive road paint will produce massive snowflake-shaped warnings to indicate a drop in temperature and icy conditions.
“While temperature-sensitive paint and solar surfaces may appear futuristic, the innovations envisioned in this report are already being tested and piloted around the world,” Marshall said. They will alter the way we think about mobility and freight transport, resulting in safer, more reliable, and environmentally friendly highway infrastructure for future generations.”
In addition to highways changing, the report predicts that ownership patterns will shift in the coming years, with commuters more likely to purchase access to a vehicle rather than the vehicle itself. While the number of motorised vehicles on our roads is expected to rise by three percent per year until 2030 – reaching two billion – the use of non-motorised transport such as bicycles and walking is also expected to grow in popularity. Cities around the world, including London, New York, Copenhagen, and Bogota, have already recognised this trend and begun to implement strategies to reduce congestion and support citizens’ health through various cycle and walking schemes.
Electric vehicles are expected to become more common on future roads as advances in material science improve battery performance and the potential for increased electricity storage. Fully automated navigation systems will also allow driverless cars to populate roads, which could change the design and operation of highways while also providing safety and environmental benefits.
The report also suggests a number of solutions to the increasing volume of traffic on our roads. Vehicles will become more ‘intelligent’ and’self-aware,’ thanks to a combination of connected vehicles and the Internet of Things, which will allow vehicles to broadcast and receive information on traffic, speed, weather, and potential safety hazards. As a result, cars will be able to travel closer together and respond to variables around them more quickly. This will allow people who were previously unable to operate vehicles, such as the elderly or disabled, to enter the market.