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Road Marker Marks You 731

If you could make a reflective road marker (a "road stud", in the jargon) that contained a small solar cell and battery, you would be able to: A) power a LED at night to provide lit lanes, not just reflection; B) monitor for fog or water on the road surface; C) monitor the temperature to detect ice; D) use infrared ranging and embedded cameras to detect and report the license number of anyone speeding on the road; E) All of the above. If the company can make them cheap enough, they'll be everywhere in a few years.
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Road Marker Marks You

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  • Oh shit (Score:5, Funny)

    by Neil Blender ( 555885 ) <> on Friday May 14, 2004 @03:51PM (#9155700)
    Here come the "Soviet Russia" jokes.
    • Re:Oh shit (Score:4, Funny)

      by stephenisu ( 580105 ) on Friday May 14, 2004 @03:53PM (#9155726)
      In Soviet Russia,

      Mile markers drive into privacy advocates.
      • Re:Oh shit (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Nuclear Elephant ( 700938 ) on Friday May 14, 2004 @04:19PM (#9156151) Homepage
        Makes you wonder about whether the cost of insurance will rise as a result of this. If you get in an accident and down a street light, they'll send your insurance company a bill for a new street light. If you get in an accident and take out 5 or 6 solar-powered weather computers, your insurance company will be paying out the nose for parts.
        • Re:Oh shit (Score:5, Informative)

          by zipoff ( 62601 ) <> on Friday May 14, 2004 @05:33PM (#9157003) Homepage
          It's my understanding that the studs are embedded in the roadway and cannot be hit. As this page [] backs up, there is only a 4mm spot that is raised above the pavement, which allows snow removal to occur over it.

          If a snowplow isn't taking them out, neither will you.
        • Re:Oh shit (Score:5, Interesting)

          by John Hurliman ( 152784 ) on Friday May 14, 2004 @06:33PM (#9157541) Homepage
          On the other hand, since this will improve law enforcement's ability to catch speeders, and speeding tickets is one of the yardsticks for insurance costs, if you don't get any tickets you might see rates drop (slightly). Also any technology that improves traffic safety in general should have a long-term positive effect on insurance rates.
          • Re:Oh shit (Score:5, Insightful)

            by billcopc ( 196330 ) <> on Friday May 14, 2004 @06:51PM (#9157672) Homepage
            Falling rates are a fallacious concept. Insurance, Government and other organised criminal associations are already screwing us silly, and there is little we can do against it. They will rise and rise until the common citizen decides it is no longer affordable to play by the rules, and that will result in civil disobedience and/or a really nasty war against The Man.

            Or we might just move to Mexico and give everyone the finger.
    • Re:Oh shit (Score:2, Insightful)

      by justforaday ( 560408 )
      Here come the "Soviet Russia" jokes.

      Preemptively taken care of: from the in-soviet-russia dept
    • Re:Oh shit (Score:3, Funny)

      by athakur999 ( 44340 )
      In Soviet Russia, Slashdot posts "In Soviet Russia..." jokes on you!

    • Re:Oh shit (Score:4, Funny)

      by Skevin ( 16048 ) on Friday May 14, 2004 @04:04PM (#9155935) Journal
      > Road Marker Marks You

      In Soviet Russia, You mark Road Marker... ...because Soviet Russia didn't have enough bathrooms.

    • Insurance go down?? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      "We all break the law regarding speeding," Mr. Kerridge said. "The system may leave a bad taste in motorists' mouths at the beginning. But when their insurance starts going down and stolen vehicles start getting recovered, the benefits will overcome that."

      My insurance has never gone down with the same company here in CA. I have to switch providers for a $100 break, then it goes up, up, then I have to switch again. Perfect record.
      • when their insurance starts going down

        Yea, that'll happen. I'm sure I'm not the only one willing to bet my life savings that this type of thing will only raise rates.
        • by Chewie ( 24912 ) on Friday May 14, 2004 @04:22PM (#9156195)
          I'm sure I'm not the only one willing to bet my life savings that this type of thing will only raise rates.

          You're crazy. This is just like when we got CDs and DVDs. They were more expensive at first, but once they got the manufacturing issues worked out, the prices came down just as promised.

          What? They didn't? Shit.
        • by Golias ( 176380 )
          Want to lower insurance rates? It's easy: Make fragile painted bumpers illegal.

          The outer shell of my rear bumper is made of brittle plastic and painted to match the rest of the car body. If some poor bastard accidently rear-ends my car at 5 MPH, the bumber will have to be replaced ($400), and then a body-shop worker will have to carefully match the faded paint on the rest of the car when painting the new one ($350) and that's not even counting the lights and stuff. Also, if he hits me at anything over

          • by Garak ( 100517 )
            Its not just the bumper its the entire car.

            Make cars that are designed to be easily fixed and that last forever(moving parts should be easy to replace). Sure the auto industry won't make billions and employ a few thousand. But the small local garages will have more work to make up for the lost jobs and you won't be using as much power/resources.

            This model works, look at most professional trucks or equipment. Most trucks are expected to work for well over 30 years. They can last nearly for ever if you make
            • by Golias ( 176380 ) on Friday May 14, 2004 @06:36PM (#9157566)
              Parts that wear out don't impact insurance, just the usable life of the car. Besides, cars already last a lot longer (with a lot less maintenance) than they used to. Just about any new car you buy today, unless it's a total lemon, you can expect to drive 100k before replacing anything beyond fluids, an air filter and maybe your break pads and tires. With a little extra maintenance, most of them will last well beyond 200k.

              So, if you drive 20,000 miles a year, you can expect a 2004 car to get you to 2014 and beyond, by which time the cars coming out then will be so vastly superior you will want another new one anyway, especially since you will be 10 years older and probably in a higher income bracket.

              Car bodies are now designed to give themselves up in high-speed collisions to save the lives of the drivers. I know, because a drunk driver hit my 2003 Nissan pick-up truck head on (off-set front collision... the classic horror story safety testers like to focus on), shattering the entire engine compartment to little pieced. When my ears stopped ringing from the air bag deployment, I noticed that I was not only unharmed, but listening to the music of my CD player, which continued to play through the entire accident!

              • by sjames ( 1099 )

                There have been a number of improvements, but also a lot of moving backwards.

                Newer cars do a lot to protect the passenger compartment in an accident, as it should be. However, I saw tests of SUVs backing into those concrete posts in parking lots at less than 5 MPH and doing $1500 worth of damage to themselves (commonly, the rear windshield shatters). That's inexcusable, especially in a so called utility vehicle.

                Of course, the worst I ever saw was a new Corvette with the entire body shattered after being

          • Want to lower insurance rates? It's easy: Make fragile painted bumpers illegal.

            It's not just bumpers that need to be fixed, a lot of cars now have an external spare tire on the rear that is positioned so that if you get into an accident with them with a vehicle taller than say a Geo Metro - you are not only going to impact the bumper but the spare tire - which in turn will impact the rear glass, 3rd light, frame for rear glass. Since that piece is usually one section, you end up not only having to replac
          • The outer shell of my rear bumper is made of brittle plastic and painted to match the rest of the car body. If some poor bastard accidently rear-ends my car at 5 MPH, the bumber will have to be replaced ($400), and then a body-shop worker will have to carefully match the faded paint on the rest of the car when painting the new one ($350) and that's not even counting the lights and stuff. Also, if he hits me at anything over 15 MPH, the bumper will fail to absorb all the shock, causing damage to the body an

      • by cavebear42 ( 734821 ) on Friday May 14, 2004 @07:04PM (#9157773)
        Ever think about this?
        Where do we get reports saying that speeding causes more deaths and accidents? Insurance agencies.
        Insurance companies base rate on points.
        Number 1 reason for points, speeding tickets.
        Number 1 lobbyer against repealing speeding laws? insurance agencies.

        Non-insurance agency reports generally say that speeding doesn't make an accident any better or worse.

        We don't like speeding laws but we never get the chance to vote them away based on companies funding campaigns full of biased data. This is a perfect example of a republic failing where a democracy would have succeeded.

        The republic was made because tallying votes from every person wasn't possible so we tallied the votes for an area and let them vote as a block. Now that it is possible (diebold aside) it's time to implement the democracy.
    • Re:Oh shit (Score:3, Informative)

      by Raven42rac ( 448205 ) *
      Step 1: Install little spy bumps.
      Step 2: ??????
      Step 3: Extra revenue.

      You can take our Soviet Russia cliche, but you can never take our underpants gnomes cliche!

      What is next, a "First Post" headline?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 14, 2004 @03:51PM (#9155706)
    In Capitalist America, Road Marker Marks YOU!
  • by Exiler ( 589908 ) on Friday May 14, 2004 @03:52PM (#9155716)
    How about, if the company can make them cheap enough then think up some ingenious distribution method to replace the reflectors on millions of miles of roadways they'd be everywhere?
    • You mean like, prison details?
    • IIRC, states get Federal funding for road projects. As a result, even the poorest state tends to keep their road construction budget quite high.

      Of course, this only applies to the US.

    • by Crudely_Indecent ( 739699 ) on Friday May 14, 2004 @04:06PM (#9155956) Journal
      sheesh, I'd accept a temporary increase in my vehicle registration for a couple of years to see these on the farm roads here in Texas.

      You haven't lived until you've torn a chunk of the drivers seat out with your ass because of an unexpected turn.

      For those of you who haven't had the pleasure of driving on a farm road in Texas, here's a brief description.

      1.5 lanes wide
      No shoulder
      Painted lines optional
      Random livestock

      • Perry county, central PA. Any given road that's not an Interstate will have any number of the following defects or problems:

        1. Animals ranging in size from squirrels to bears will camp in the road with impunity. Beeping will not help. Creeping forward will not help. This is why gun racks for trucks were invented.
        2. Drunken rednecks will stammer aimlessly up the side of the road between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. (the lags are due to the time it takes shift changing workers to get drunk and compensate for bar opening / closing times). This is the secondary reasoning behind gun racks for trucks.
        3. Potholes. Potholes in most places mean "a hole in the road which causes temporary discomfort or, if serious enough, possible damage to the vehicle". In Perry County, it's a "dimple" in the road until it's large enough to swallow a CG-47 Ticonderoga vessel whole. Fortunately, any self-respecting denizen of Perry County owns at least two trucks twice the size of a Ticonderoga and loaded with five time the armaments.
        4. Thirty degree turns. I wish I made that up.
        5. A long, hard haul up one side and a drop off on the other that would make a roller coaster designer wet his pants. No hill in Perry County that has a road on it has any shape other than a perfect wedge. If you managed to run up one side fast enough, you could probably win the X-Prize with your truck after you ramp off the top.
        6. One lane. Or less. If there is a lane.
        7. Watch out for houses on the roadway. Literally.
        8. Roads in Perry County were invented for large pieces of farm equipment to travel on in first gear only. This warning actaully applies to the interstates and major roadways as well.
        9. No matter how many people die at the intersection, or how backed up the traffic gets, there is no red light. Perry County residents are stubbornly proud of the fact that there has never been a permanent red light in their county. Several attempts to put some in to save lives and manage the traffic flow have been brought forward. All of them got their shit seriously wrecked by rednecks in trucks with gun racks.
        • Animals ranging in size from squirrels to bears will camp in the road with impunity. Beeping will not help. Creeping forward will not help. This is why gun racks for trucks were invented.

          If you're talking about the ones in the window: They were actually invented to deal with the concealed carry laws in certain states.

          If you want to carry a gun in a car it has to be visible from the outside. Otherwise it's a "concealed weapon" because it's "concealed by the car". Thus the gun rack across the back windo
    • by JWW ( 79176 ) on Friday May 14, 2004 @04:12PM (#9156048)
      They'd have to be durable in northern climates because anything you put on the road has to be able to withstand getting scraped off of the road by a snowplow.
    • We really don't need these for high-traffic areas. Ya' see, most cars these days are just huge rolling sensors with wheels and seats. Add bluetooth or wifi and allow the cars to communicate with a centralized data-acquisition system and you've got massive amounts of good, useful data. ABS kicking in on multiple cars in the same area? Warn other drivers of slick conditions (GPS sensor required). Air-bag deployed? Warn other drivers of potential debris/flotsam. Speedo registering well under the limit f
      • Great, then someone will come up with a hack that spoofs the receivers, creating "traffic jams" on deserted roads, "icy conditions" in the desert and many other, more nefarious things.

        Not that I'm necessarily advocating "Big Brother"-type, camera-on-every-lightpost monitoring, but it would be foolish to rely on people correctly reporting what their vehicle is doing at all times.
  • by zedmelon ( 583487 ) on Friday May 14, 2004 @03:52PM (#9155717) Homepage Journal
    A mere 5mm of water on the road surface can cause a vehicle travelling at 70mph to lose all grip

    5mm? 70mph? What if I'm driving in a quarter inch of water at 115kph?

  • "Road Marker" (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    FWIW, the correct term for these items is RPM, or "Raised Pavement Marker".
  • Or F (Score:5, Funny)

    by SheldonYoung ( 25077 ) on Friday May 14, 2004 @03:53PM (#9155723)
    F) Drive along with a truck and a shovel, collecting enough solar panels and batteries to power your house.
  • then we could start a company that tore the markers off the road then sold them back to the Company. We will be rich! Or maybe we will make Marks to Mark where the road markers end up... there is an Idea for you.
  • Reg Free Link (Score:3, Informative)

    by karmatic ( 776420 ) on Friday May 14, 2004 @03:54PM (#9155742)
    Here [].
  • by aardwolf204 ( 630780 ) on Friday May 14, 2004 @03:54PM (#9155752)
    Lets just get it out of the way
    F) CowboyNeal

  • One problem: (Score:3, Insightful)

    by EMDischarge ( 589758 ) on Friday May 14, 2004 @03:55PM (#9155765)
    Snow plows. Granted, you can embed them in a track in between lanes but that gets expensive over large sections of roadway. Cool idea, though, will probably be most useful in areas that don't get enough snow to warrant plowing.
    • Re:One problem: (Score:5, Informative)

      by karmatic ( 776420 ) on Friday May 14, 2004 @04:02PM (#9155894)
      Blah, Blah, Blah - RTFA.

      "The original Astucia markers were glued onto the road surface. That left them vulnerable to snowplow blades and to constant pounding from car and truck tires.

      Mr. Dicks wanted to put the markers into holes drilled into the road surface. The key, he said, was finding self-healing resins for the top lenses that would be flush with the surface and subjected to much wear and tear."
      • Wait a second. If they're flush with the roadway, then how do they plan to take photos of speeders' license plates? I mean, isn't that

        (A) an impossible angle and
        (B) a very thick, slanted lens relative to the camera?

        That would mean making the actual optics in the cameras much more complex to compensate, not to mention the fact that with a snowplow scraping over them, the exterior surface will be in no shape to act as a lens at all. These things would be way too expensive to be viable anywhere.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 14, 2004 @03:56PM (#9155789)
    this []
  • Article Text (Score:5, Informative)

    by zoloto ( 586738 ) on Friday May 14, 2004 @03:56PM (#9155791)
    In a Road That's All Eyes, the Driver Finds an Ally

    ABOUT 12 years ago, Martin Dicks was trapped in dense fog during a harrowing four-hour commute to his job as a firefighter in central London.

    "Virtually all I could see on the road was a cat's-eye reflector every now and then," Mr. Dicks said, recalling his trip down one of Britain's major highways. "I figured that if I could make the cat's-eyes more visible, I could probably save more lives than I could in the fire service."

    A back injury forced Mr. Dicks out of the fire department shortly afterward, giving him the time to pursue that goal. His training as an electrical engineer provided the necessary skills.

    Now, after perfecting illuminated markers that are embedded in the road surface to guide motorists through bad weather or warn of dangerous conditions, Mr. Dicks's company, Astucia Traffic Management Systems, is going a step further. Its latest creation is an embedded stud equipped with a camera that catches speeders, monitors traffic for criminals or stolen cars and even checks for bald tires on the fly.

    "Nobody knows it's a camera or a speed trap," Mr. Dicks said of his latest creation.

    Mr. Dicks's original idea was quite simple in concept. He wanted to create an illuminated road marker containing its own power source, a solar cell. At night or in bad weather, light from approaching vehicles would generate enough power to light up the marker, which consisted of light-emitting diodes. An illuminated marker would be more visible than a plain reflector, and the idea was that a car passing over the markers would cause them to stay illuminated long enough so that they would provide a warning trail of lights for any vehicles close behind.

    The trouble, at first, was the technology available in the early 1990's. Photovoltaic cells were not as efficient as they are today. And at the time, Mr. Dicks recalled, "the concept of a white L.E.D. was nowhere."

    Working mostly with family members at first, Mr. Dicks produced a prototype marker within two years. He dodged the white L.E.D. problem by combining the glow from red, green and blue arrays. The group not only overcame the limitations of solar cells, but also managed to engineer markers that turned red to warn when the gap between two cars was dangerously small.

    Mr. Dicks said the technology both impressed and alarmed British government highway officials.

    "They were frightened about everyone using the product on roads from one end of the country to the other," he said. "They thought it would make their budgets disappear."

    The first markers cost roughly twice the price of conventional embedded road studs. As a result, their use was restricted at first to especially fog-prone or dangerous sections of roads as well as crosswalks, including some in the United States.

    Mr. Dicks was not the only person with a desire to illuminate to road markers. After a friend struck and killed a pedestrian in 1991 at a crosswalk in Santa Rosa, Calif., Michael Harrison developed a system that uses flashing L.E.D.'s in the road surface to make crosswalks more visible. The company he founded in 1994, LightGuard Systems, now has about 700 installations in the United States.

    A study of 100 illuminated crosswalks by Katz, Okitsu & Associates, a traffic engineering firm based in Southern California, estimates that adding the blinking L.E.D.'s to crosswalks can reduce pedestrian accidents by 80 percent.

    The original Astucia markers were glued onto the road surface. That left them vulnerable to snowplow blades and to constant pounding from car and truck tires.

    Mr. Dicks wanted to put the markers into holes drilled into the road surface. The key, he said, was finding self-healing resins for the top lenses that would be flush with the surface and subjected to much wear and tear.

    "It's like running your fingernail on a rubber sheet," he said of the plastics' behavior. "The mark it leaves goes away."

    • Re:Article Text (Score:3, Insightful)

      by elmegil ( 12001 )
      But when their insurance starts going down

      Fat frickin' chance. Price went down for CD manufacturing. Did the price at Best Buy drop any? No. Are the Insurance companies any more ethical than the RIAA? Hell no.

    • "Virtually all I could see on the road was a cat's-eye reflector every now and then," Mr. Dicks said, ...

      I had the same thing happen to me, except all I (thump) could see (thump) was the occasional cat's eyes. (thump)

  • As long as my car can auto sense the speed limit and auto-adjust its speed to avoid tickets I'll be fine - otherwise I'm going to get tickets every day..

    The thought of the road markers being lit by led though sounds great - too many foggy nights when its hard to see them and this could help a bit.
    • D) use infrared ranging and embedded cameras to detect and report the license number of anyone speeding on the road;

      In many states, you need to photograph the face of the person driving in addition to the license plate. These little markers would need some sort of WiFi coordination with a camera positioned higher up in order to capture the drivers face.

      My only concern would be with night time. Unless these would only be used on highways with street lights, I can imagine all sorts of safety problems

  • Road studs (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Cruciform ( 42896 ) on Friday May 14, 2004 @03:58PM (#9155822) Homepage
    Those little studs are great. There's some newly paves roads in our area that have long curves with steep dropoffs and the painted lines really don't show up well on rainy nights.

    They placed the road studs on one of these roads and they practically glow compared to the paint. If the self-illuminating kind become readily available and easily placed it would be great for areas that see a lot of inclement weather.

    Might cut down on the number of oncoming cars that drift into my lane on during the commute home as well. Now if we could just jam cell phone use in cars.
  • by obfuscated ( 258084 ) on Friday May 14, 2004 @03:58PM (#9155831) Homepage
    is if the government started putting leds embedded into the pavement and they could send you messages (eg. accident up ahead, work zone, speed limit changed to XXmph, etc) to you while you're driving having the message pace with your car.

    Also, you could make lanes that are dynamic during the day and night. (They already have those with changing street signs).

    Real time stopping distance approxomations (are you following too close?). Lane change "handoffs" (the road infront of you goes orange because someone is turning into that lane.)

    It's would be the same technology used for those rotating led clocks.

    Of course, it'll all be moot when people finally let computers do the driving for them.
    • by Too Much Noise ( 755847 ) on Friday May 14, 2004 @04:23PM (#9156207) Journal
      is having all sorts of commercials follwing you around on the road.

      I guess the better option would still be to have the messages sent by wifi to the car's computer and displayed on its screen, so you can read them easily. Reading stuff off the pavement while driving is not exactly convenient.

      Interesting point though. It will probably happen, too (in one form or another), but not very soon.
    • Here's a very direct link to Northwest Indiana's current solution, which doesn't incorporate all you asked for but does show everything I need and want :-). I do like your ideas, though.

      Click me! []

  • A ./ first? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by lpangelrob2 ( 721920 ) on Friday May 14, 2004 @04:01PM (#9155872) Journal
    Is this the first news story to be posed in the form of a multiple choice question? If so, can it also be the last? :-)

    On another note, at least mention the fact the article is New York Times.

    Now for on topic stuff... I like the idea of flashing lights for crosswalks, but not so much the cameras. It's sort of messed up to think that every single reflector in the road can be a camera.

    Also, at what point does this start becoming a distraction? Can I see the lights from my front window? Being LEDs, I would hope not, but it'd be nice to know. I also would be interested in seeing whether these things stand up to the weight of a Chicago winter... regardless of what the article says. :-)

  • by dara ( 119068 ) on Friday May 14, 2004 @04:01PM (#9155876)
    As I say every time this subject comes up, I'd much rather have my car know the max speed on a given road for a given set of conditions and not be allowed to go over the max speed, than I want fancy electronics to check to see if I go over the max speed, and if I do, take my picture, and send me a ticket. I'd rather pay higher taxes than fund police through tickets (and we wouldn't need as much traffic police either if the cars were smarter).

    I claim that if no one could go over the speed limit, traffic would flow much more smoothly, and if the limit is too low (because you are expected to speed 10 mph), we will all complain loudly enough to get it changed.

    Other aspects of this project sound interesting though.

    Dara Parsavand
    • The idea of engine governors (in any form) is great until someone gets involved in a side-impact collision that could have been avoided if they'd only been able to stomp on the gas and make the oncoming vehicle (which, engine governor or no, was still moving at more than zero speed) miss. Braking isn't always an option, nor is maneuvering...sometimes the only way to avoid a collision is to go faster.
    • by zakezuke ( 229119 ) on Friday May 14, 2004 @04:25PM (#9156239)
      I'd much rather have my car know the max speed on a given road for a given set of conditions and not be allowed to go over the max speed

      There are times when going over the speedlimit not only legal, but done for saftey reasons. Passing another car on a two lane highway is one case where it's perfectly acceptable to go 10 or 15mph over the posted limit depending on the state's local laws. Even smaller towns near where I live who depend on speeding tickets for income when I told the judge I was passing a truck halling rocks, he understood and threw it out.

      I wouldn't object to a system where my car would understand the speed limit and beep at me if i'm going over, nor would I object to a cruse control i'm able to set at that speed, so long as I can override it for passing or other emergencies.

    • It would seem that you are unfamiliar with the revenue enhancement aspect of speed enforcement. Speed limits are only peripherally about safety. In many (most?) small towns, speeding fines are a significant portion of the municipal revenue stream. Of course, they won't publicly admit this in so many words, but a proposal to implement red-light cameras in Ohio was withdrawn after a lawmaker proposed warning signs and a first-offense-free policy. Both the camera company and the town involved complained that that plan would reduce revenue too much, prompting the legislator to ask "Is this a bill about safety or a bill about revenue?"
    • When your father is on his death bed in a hospital 40 miles away and you and your siblings want to get there to see him before he passes, I'm sure you'll want your car to be stuck doing the speedlimit...
      I also didn't buy a car with a 4.6L V8 to be hampered by built-in speed controls. Some people find driving fun you know.
      • Some people find driving fun you know.

        It is fun, but unfortunately that's one reason we have to have speed limits and rules out the ass. There will always be people who don't know how to control their fun-having properly. That said, I think it is dangerous to have auto-limiting of a vehicle's speed, for various reasons. However, there is a bright spot in this sort of advancement... If the system can become smart enough, and do the actual driving for you, we'd probably be allowed to go much faster anyhow.
    • by blunte ( 183182 ) on Friday May 14, 2004 @06:47PM (#9157636)
      From my years of driving in 2M+ person cities, I've had time to observe what slows down traffic flow.

      Three things: braking (slow spots), inattention/under-limit driving, and fear.

      - Slow Spots

      What slows down traffic flow most is people braking when they don't need to, or braking more than they need to. The problem is that in congested traffic, once one car slows in one lane, a wedge of cars behind him slows, and behind them everyone slows.

      Then when that one driver speeds up (and it takes much longer to speed up than slow down), the next cars THEN speed up. They don't speed up exactly when the lead driver does because it takes them time to see the change. This carries on behind them.

      This creates a slow spot on the freeway. Once a slow spot is created, it only goes away once a gap backwards in traffic is large enough to allow the slowed vehicles to speed up to normal speed before the gap is completely closed by the approaching traffic.

      - Under-limit Driving

      This is obvious. Left or center lane driver drops below speed limit, cars behind have to slow (often they use their brake instead of coasting down), and you're in the situation above (slow spot).

      - Fear

      Car needs in another lane. Most drivers, if there is room ahead of the vehicle beside them, will still brake and try to fall in behind the neighboring vehicle. The following vehicles in that lane may not be friendly, and may not allow that. So fearful driver brakes even more, hoping to eventually get over. I've even seen some fools come to a complete stop in the middle of the freeway so they can hopefully work across 3 lanes to exit. They should have either sped up and pulled in front, or if that took too long, gradually worked their way over, missed their exit, and looped back.

      These things don't mean you should never brake, or that you should always drive aggressively, but some middle ground approach would surely improve things. The time cost for a full traffic jam is enormous. 5 minutes times 200,000 vehicles is 11 days of time. In a perverse way that's a really significant amount of power that one driver can exercise. Create a good traffic jam and you've just wasted 11 days of your town's time.
  • by tyrani ( 166937 ) on Friday May 14, 2004 @04:01PM (#9155879)
    In the upper states (buffalo, etc) and many parts of Canada, they have a great deal of trouble with things like these. Snow plows simply pick anything not level with the road off. Even if they're dug down a bit into the pavement, they still get damaged and eventually get picked out. I don't think that it's going to work to well up here.

    Now, figure out how to do all that in a paint and then you're a kabillionair!
  • Shades of Orwell (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Alaren ( 682568 ) on Friday May 14, 2004 @04:01PM (#9155880)

    "Nobody knows it's a camera or a speed trap," Mr. Dicks said of his latest creation.

    While I'm willing to applaud better-lit roads, why incorporate speed traps? Increased revenue to pay for the little buggers? Do we really want (or need) tiny cameras posted all along our highways seeing to it that we behave? I mean, I guess it could be argued that if you obey the law you have nothing to fear, but this just makes me uneasy. What next? Crosswalks that take a picture of you when you jaywalk--even if it's midnight and there's no traffic? I thought this was 2004, not 1984...

    • >While I'm willing to applaud better-lit roads, why incorporate speed traps?

      Because driving slower kills fewer pedestrians, and no matter how many times we *ask* drivers to obey the law, they won't. So we have to make them.

      >I mean, I guess it could be argued that if you obey the law you have nothing to fear

      Yes, you could argue that.

      • Re:Shades of Orwell (Score:3, Interesting)

        by kabocox ( 199019 )
        Because driving slower kills fewer pedestrians

        Will these things light the interstate up red if a pedestrain is walking there?

        Those pedestrians shouldn't be walking along the interstate! That is just asking for a Darwin award. I know it would suck if you had a flat or ran out of gas, but really you shouldn't walk on the shoulder of the interstate. You should be off the road entirely if you ever need to walk there.
  • sorry but... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MarcoAtWork ( 28889 ) on Friday May 14, 2004 @04:01PM (#9155887)
    while people will really like these if they do only the 'safety' tasks (illuminated, warnings for fog, standing water, ...), there's no way they wouldn't be vandalized instantly if they were used for speed limit enforcement.
  • by FlyingOrca ( 747207 ) on Friday May 14, 2004 @04:04PM (#9155934) Journal
    ...ever since I saw embedded reflectors in the UK. Problem is, where I live, we get large amounts of snow and ice building up on the roads. Sometimes when I'm driving on the highway, my mind will turn to the notion of holographic lane markers... or some equivalent system that would interact with the windshield of the car to visibly plot lanes etc... How about it, physicists of /.? Any brilliant ideas?
    • some equivalent system that would interact with the windshield of the car to visibly plot lanes etc...

      Anything that can be hacked will be hacked.

      Do you really want to see a picture of the goatse man on your windshield as you are driving on the highway?
  • My reaction (Score:3, Insightful)

    by chrispl ( 189217 ) on Friday May 14, 2004 @04:06PM (#9155963) Homepage
    My first reaction is:

    LED lit roads - good
    Roads that track you everywhere you go - Bad

    So why does such a good idea have to become "real-world bloatware"?
  • Speed enforcement (Score:5, Interesting)

    by b0s0z0ku ( 752509 ) on Friday May 14, 2004 @04:08PM (#9155980)
    The markers will probably be useful for detecting fog and leaving a light trail after cars. Speed cameras are best placed on vertical structures where the lens is less likely to get covered with ice/snow/road grime/spray paint and where the lens is also best positioned to view license plates. Besides, we'll probably all go to RFIDs in cars within a few years :) Automated enforcement of speed laws is actually illlegal in many jurisdictions like NJ and PA (in PA local cops aren't even allowed to use RADAR or laser). Something about the right to face your accuser...


  • by Zarquon ( 1778 ) on Friday May 14, 2004 @04:21PM (#9156185)
    Initial costs, reliability, expected lifespans. The conditions are:

    1) Outdoors in extreme temperature ranges,
    2) Very high humidity, and often corrosive atmosphere,
    3) Physically very small,
    4) Reasonably immune to physical damage (salt/sand sludge + snowplows do _nasty_ things to optical windows.)

    Power has to come from batteries at night; what is the battery life under industrial temperatures (-20 to 150F, forex.) Concrete doesn't get quite that hot, but asphault does.

    You can get away with powering LEDs with a supercap and a switcher, should have a better lifespan than a NiCD or SLA, but they're physically larger and not as robust (As well as pricey.) But that won't cut it for cameras or radios. So you have to replace the batteries every few years.

    These are not traditional road studs. 5" wide?? These are huge; the normal installation methods won't work.

    I'd like to see their business case. Almost certainly relies on questionable safety increases or revenue from being a speed trap.

    My state is running a multi-year reliability study on more traditional road studs (including those nifty blue reflectors) on various roads around the area.
  • by LesPaul75 ( 571752 ) on Friday May 14, 2004 @04:28PM (#9156280) Journal
    You know, there's an ironic thing about the speed limit. I don't think that police really want to strictly enforce it. If they did, what would happen? There would be a tremendous flood of tickets issued at first... There would be serious outcry from the majority of people who feel the limit is too low... They would probably raise it slightly, but not enough to really matter...

    It's just like the weekly poker night that I host. I tell people: "Show up no later than 8:00, or cards will be dealt and your hands will be folded." Now, we don't really enforce that rule, but there has to be some rule in place, just because, otherwise, if I said, "Show up anytime from 7:00 to 9:00," then the first guy would show up at 9:30, and the game would start sometime around midnight.

    There has to be some speed limit, but strict enforcement just isn't good for anyone -- especially the police.
  • by willy_me ( 212994 ) on Friday May 14, 2004 @04:28PM (#9156285)
    If you want to identify who's driving where. Ignoring the obvious privacy concerns, it's not that bad an idea. For example, my uncle got hit biking by a hit-and-run. Shattered pelvis - never able to bike again. At least with RFID tags in the license plates that would have been able to track down the truck that hit him.
  • by bhurt ( 1081 ) on Friday May 14, 2004 @04:42PM (#9156454) Homepage
    Or if they do, they won't last past the first snow. Along comes a snowplow, and *pop* *pop* *pop* there go the reflectors, smart or not, right into the ditch. Along with the odd hunk of concrete that was sticking up, unlucky mailboxes, small cars...

    Nice idea for SoCal, tho.
  • Ain't gonna happen (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Lord Kano ( 13027 ) on Friday May 14, 2004 @04:49PM (#9156559) Homepage Journal
    D) use infrared ranging and embedded cameras to detect and report the license number of anyone speeding on the road;

    States rely too much upon the fines for speeding. They have optimized their income with the current system. If speed detection was made 100% reliable, no one would do it and the states wouldn't make any money off of it.

    This is a part of the reason why interlock devices aren't placed on all cars at the factory. Everyone hates "drunk driving", but they make so much money off of it that they don't want it to completely stop.

  • by blueZ3 ( 744446 ) on Friday May 14, 2004 @04:54PM (#9156615) Homepage
    Something that's prety much completely overlooked in these discussions of "auto ticketing for over the limit" is that setting one speed limit for all vehicles ignores the differences between vehicles that are based on physics and manufacturing quality.

    In my Z3, I can (safely) take corners at speeds far in excess of the posted "recommended" limits. Indeed, I frequently don't actually need to slow down for the corners. That's because the car's center of gravity is extremely low, the wide tires provide huge contact patches, and the car is almost perfectly balanced (50/50 front/rear). Add to the mix the outstanding OEM suspension, and it is completely safe to take the corner above the recommended speed.

    In my sisters Ford Excursion, however, a speed below the posted recommended limit is necessary to keep the behemoth between the lines. It has a high center of gravity, a terrible contact patch/weight ratio, and bad front/rear balance. Plus, being made by Ford, the suspension feels like a pair of overstretched rubber bands. The posted recommended limit is too high for that thing.

    Impossible, but I'd like to see speed limits take into account the physics that control how safe a vehicle is at speed. Much more frightening to me than a sports car travelling at 100 mph (not me :-> ) is the overloaded minivan going 85.

    That'll probably arrive right after the IQ requirement for driver's licenses.

    Dan D
  • by Phurd Phlegm ( 241627 ) on Friday May 14, 2004 @05:04PM (#9156736)
    . . . will actually disable speeding cars. There are several rumors about how this mechanism will actually work, but most focus on some sort of "switchblade" effect--sort of like a dehydrated version of the "danger severe tire damage" things you see at the car rental place. When a speeding vehicle is detected, the bump will hike itself onto its little retractable legs, erect its razor-like crest, and scuttle into the path of the oncoming scofflaw.

    Since they can also form packs, they can turn into a revenue center for municipalities either by extorting money from homeless people in the neighborhood or by breaking them up for parts.

    Version 2.5 will include the ability to self-assemble, leading the end of life as we know it. Personally, I salute our new artifically-intelligent speed bump overlords!

"Never face facts; if you do, you'll never get up in the morning." -- Marlo Thomas