Glow in the Dark Roads: An Intelligent Idea for a “Smart” World

The idea of the “smart” device has changed our lives pretty significantly in the last decade.

It’s all based around a, somewhat ironically, simple concept that basically states “Why should you just have a (blank) when you can have a (blank) that (blanks)”. The pursuit of that idea has led us to many world changing innovations, but has also contributed superfluous gadgets like refrigerators that are twitter capable.

Now there’s an entirely new “smart” object in development in the Netherlands, and it’s hard to tell which category it will ultimately fit in.

Creator Daan Roosegaarde is currently working on a five year plan that will add interactive lights to the major roads of the Netherlands. Essentially, the project will replace the more traditional road markings with a powder that gathers up to 10 hours worth of charge during the day, so that it may shine at night and give them a glow in the dark effect. The idea is to replace the more traditional street lights which can be expensive, cumbersome, and visually unappealing with a more organic (in a design sense) and attractive alternative. The lights will also be in tune with the conditions of the road as the idea is that below freezing temperatures they will form a snowflake shape that will instantly alert drivers to dangerous conditions.

Roosegaarde and his team are not only trying to bring roads into the modern world visually, but also see some larger practical benefits to the dynamic paint. Particularly when it comes to cost, as they estimated that hundreds of thousands of dollars can be saved annually by this new system once it is in place on a large scale. The need for a cheaper light source is highlighted by the recent decision by UK authorities to dim or turn off lights by 9 PM on certain motorways due to the rising cost of keeping them running at full capacity 24 hours a day.

However, the idea of a “glow in the dark” highway is just one of many concepts the team is dreaming up, with the larger goal being to create a truly smart roadway system that will also incorporate ideas like wind power lights, proximity lights, and electric car only lanes that can help charge the car along the way. Already, their ideas have won the ‘Best Concept’ award at the Dutch Design Awards, and as they slowly come into production, the creative team at the helm is imagining expansions to other regions of Europe, Asia, and the U.S. west coast which has romantic ties with the highway system and is a forefront of transportation innovations of their own at the moment.

300 meters of the road paint will get its first trial by 2013, and from there the reception will dictate the implication of some of the other smart concepts.

Considering we live in a world where various intriguing ideas are introduced at a blazing speed, it can be difficult to predict if even the most creative of which will end up being successful. However, regardless of the reaction to these “Smart Road” concepts, it opens up an interesting idea of modifying one of our most basic institutions (the road) to work more intelligently in a world constantly doing the same, and as such makes it pretty easy to root for.

Of course, if the actual product ends up as beautiful as the concept, we could be looking at a new world where keeping your eyes on the road is the distraction.

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