Autonomous vehicles get all the glory in our ideal transportation future, but they’re gonna need somewhere to drive. Our streets are seriously lagging, technology-wise. Enter smart roadways that can alert crews when they need to be repaired—and then can be swapped out as easily as Lego bricks.
It’s not just cars that will be getting more intelligent, writes David T. Hartgen in the Wall Street Journal. Changing roadway design will be optimized for self-driving cars, ensuring that elements like interchanges and express lanes allow vehicles to travel swiftly and safely through cities.
But the most critical and expensive part of auto transportation—maintenance—could be solved by making roadways not only smart but modular, with a universal system for reporting and repairing problems. It would change the entire structure of the way transportation works in the US:
Automated monitoring of road conditions will be widespread and tied directly to repair schedules. Maintenance and repair may be quickly addressed using long-lasting composite materials. Highway departments could become largely contract managers rather than construction and maintenance units.
Imagine city streets, then, as a much more flexible system, with lanes that can be added or removed as traffic patterns change, or bridges that snap into position when they need to be upgraded. Instead of a fleet of cement mixers, each state’s highway department gets a 3D printer to help keep roadways up-to-date, saving time, materials and money.
Until, you know, flying cars. [WSJ]
Top photo: Gubin Yury