Some of the earliest roads were built around 4,000 BC in Mesopotamia and were made of stone. The Romans made astounding technological advances in roadbuilding, using multiple layers of materials on top of crushed stone to allow for water drainage. Another breakthrough came in the early 19th century when a Scottish engineer laid down multi-layer beds with soil and crushed stone aggregate and would then compact it with heavy rollers. Modern-day pavers use massive computer-driven machines to lay down different concrete. The concrete itself can be made with varying ingredients for durability in specific conditions. Each technological leap forward improved travel, trade, and communication.
We may be on the verge of another evolutionary moment where the roads are not made up of just concrete or asphalt. They’ll have circuits and data transfer capabilities.
There’s been a lot of news lately about smart cars and trucks that are able to transport people and goods autonomously. While we perfect these vehicles, wouldn’t the next logical step be to make the road upon which they travel just as smart?
The State of Ohio thinks so. It invested $15 million to install advanced highway technology last summer in what it calls the “Smart Mobility Corridor.”
In announcing the project, Ohio Governor John Kasich said, “The Smart Mobility Corridor, 35 miles of four-lane, limited access highway between Dublin and East Liberty, northwest of Columbus, will be equipped by the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) with high-capacity fiber optic cable to instantaneously link researchers and traffic monitors with data from embedded and wireless sensors along the roadway. These links will allow the premier automotive testing, research, and manufacturing facilities to test smart transportation technologies on a highway that carries up to 50,000 vehicles per day through rural and urban settings in a full range of weather conditions. This data will also provide more frequent and accurate traffic counts, weather and surface condition monitoring, and incident management improvements.”
The investment coincides with a grant from the US Department of Transportation of $6 million (and matching local funds) to not only expand fiber optic networks and install sensors on Highway 33, but also retrofit government vehicles to send and receive data.
Where will the next evolutionary roadbuilding step be taken? Maybe you’re at the World of Concrete right now and imagining a new type of cement that provides an optimal medium to accommodate embedded technology or, even better, concrete itself made with nanites or nanobots that act as fiber optic cable and wireless sensors.