The Google highway
The impact of self driving cars on road design
We are still designing roads based on the cars of yesterday: highways with fixed lanes and traffic signs telling you about a fixed route. Why? You know your destination, your car knows how to get there. What if we designed our roads for communicating, adaptive, self driving cars?
The future is near...
Say, it’s 1995. You predict that, soon, the average citizen will have a mobile phone. Moreover, you predict that, within ten years, the vast majority of goatherds in the desert will have a mobile phone (and a small photovoltaic device to charge it). Most people probably would have laughed at you. Except the people designing this stuff...
The cars of yesterday
We build our roads as if no navigation device existed, as if electric cars are not foreseeable in the near future and self driving cars are not imaginable at all. We paint fixed lanes on the tarmac and spend huge amounts of public money on all kinds of traffic signs and speed limitations held up by steel constructions.
We spend valuable time waiting in traffic jams. We have to face the cold and wind to stand next to our car, filling up the gas tanks holding a steel pistol with plastic gloves to prevent getting gasoline on our hands. Isn’t it ridiculous?
You wake-up and ask you car to pull over in front of your house from wherever it has parked itself. It takes you to your destination while you are reading an e-book and having breakfast (of course the car has already picked-up the fresh Danish pastry).
The car calculates range and energy use. Safety, noise and pollution are measured, not speed. If necessary, your car charges on the inductive lane.
You command your car to pull over at a hospitality area, a former gasoline station, where a meeting is scheduled with a business associate. Back home, your car parks itself. No more driving around in the neighborhood looking for a parking spot. Cities become less clogged with cars, since self driving cars park themselves wherever it’s most suitable.
While you are at home, you share your car with friends and friends of friends when you don’t need it. Your car becomes a driverless taxi.
What if our roads were build for sensing, adaptive, communicating cars? The future road can do without the fixed corset of painted lines designed for maximum speed. We don’t always drive at maximum speed. Adjustable lane marking (e-ink) turns the average three lane highway into a seven lane plane when its busy. The tarmac also produces sustainable energy: aquifers defrost and cool the asphalt, extending its life-cycle and improving safety. Load balancing trucks find the ideal line, preventing the wheels from wearing out one track.
The future road can do without traffic signs. No more money spending on the maintenance of steel constructions holding up traffic signs with fixed routing. No need for markers reminding of the speed limitations every hundred meters. The road can be lighted by solar powered, motion detecting LED lighting instead of energy consuming sodium-vapor bulbs that take ages to reach full power.
A road without barriers preventing us from crashing into steel constructions holding up traffic signs. A network without fixed routes. A system without traffic jams. An unhindered traffic flow containing people who are spending time the way they want to: reading an e-book, or enjoying the scenery.
A true freeway...