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The Highways Of The Future Will Look Very Different From Today

From glow-in-the-dark roads to self-healing surfaces, future roadways will need to get smarter to accommodate traffic that is growing around the world.

The Highways Of The Future Will Look Very Different From Today
[Images: Arup]

It may seem hard to imagine, but in the future, there’s likely to be even more traffic on the roads than today. Globally, vehicle volumes on roads are growing, and at the same time, many people are moving around more often: The International Transport Forum says by 2050 “passenger mobility” will be three to four times higher than it is currently.

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How will we cope? According to a new report, we’ll apply a range of technologies, from wireless charging of electric vehicles to fully synchronized traffic signaling. The study, from the Arup engineering group, says roadways are set for a big-time overhaul:

Although vehicles and technology have advanced dramatically over the past 40 years, roadways have arguably failed to evolve at the same rapid pace, especially from the user perspective. This is changing, as new technologies have the potential to make radical changes to the construction, management and efficiency of road infrastructure.

You can see many of the ideas summarized in the graphic here. For example, Arup expects to see “road markings that glow in the dark” (like this glowing electric car charging highway being trialled in the Netherlands), self-healing road surfaces (several research groups are experimenting with bacteria in concrete to help seal up cracks), and road-side bioluminescent trees (like these). And, of course, we’ll also have drones that fly overhead (tracking traffic and predicting maintenance needs) and self-driving cars.


Aside from detailing incipient tech, the report offers some scenarios for how people will get around. For example, there’s the story of Thandi Ndebele, a fictitious financial analyst who gets to work on an autonomous electric bus. The vehicle charges while picking up passengers and has LCD displays on the outside giving information about routes, weather and local events. It travels in its own dedicated lanes (like cyclists) and passes through a greenway devoid of polluting cars.

Arup’s vision is both depressing and inspiring. On the one hand, there’s even more people to cater to than today, with all the implications for resources that entails, and surveillance is pervasive. On the other, the transport system is more integrated, intelligent and flexible, and car-carrying roads aren’t as central to cities as they are now. In the future, “motorized travel in cities will be required to fit into, rather than be at the center of, planning decisions,” the report says.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.

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