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Are Glowing, Solar Smart Roads the Future? 193

cartechboy (2660665) writes "We were just talking about glow-in-the-dark roads and how they were having issues already. Now there's a company called Solar Roadways that's looking to make glowing, solar, smart roads. Back in 2009 the Department of Transportation awarded Solar Roadways $100,000 to prototype road systems with embedded digital signage and dividing lines, all powered by the sun. As it turns out, the company's prototype performed well — so well that Solar Roadways is now looking to go big-time, and it's asking for your help to do so. At the heart of the Solar Roadways project sit a vast number of hexagonal tiles. The bottom of those tiles consist of solar panels and circuit boards, covered with a thick sheet of tempered glass. The panels contain LED lights, which can be configured to mark traffic lanes, send messages, or fulfill other functions. The panels also have heating elements to help melt snow and ice during colder months. Are these smart roads the future, or just another pipe dream?"
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Are Glowing, Solar Smart Roads the Future?

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  • by Camel Pilot ( 78781 ) on Thursday May 15, 2014 @12:40AM (#47006345) Homepage Journal

    What is going to prevent these plates from getting scratched and rendered useless shortly by studded tires, gravel, snow plows, etc.

    i think solar roof tiles is a much better idea.

    • by fastest fascist ( 1086001 ) on Thursday May 15, 2014 @03:52AM (#47006907)

      What is going to prevent these plates from getting scratched and rendered useless shortly by studded tires, gravel, snow plows, etc.

      Flying cars, of course.

    • I very much agree with you. You should put solar panels where they can catch most sunlight. These tiles are a funny gadget for some architects to make a small-scale project (a driveway somewhere, or maybe the entrance for a theme park). But as a large scale energy source, this is hopeless.

      1. The efficiency of the solar panels is reduced because of lots of dirt, and because of the very thick glass protection on top of it.
      --> As a result of the lower efficiency, the solar panels will not be an interesting

    • by Sarten-X ( 1102295 ) on Thursday May 15, 2014 @08:20AM (#47007787) Homepage

      Why do scratches need to be prevented?

      Scratched glass is still glass. There are century-old glass sidewalks that still let plenty of light into the tunnels below. As long as the tile only needs a sufficiently-small percentage of the energy it receives, it will continue to function. Display visibility from vehicles would be the biggest problem, but that would function much like the paint under a hockey arena. Even though the lines may not have perfect edges and appear beautiful, they'll still be functional to show where the edge of a lane is.

    • The first place to start is just to actually put solar on all the convenient flat roofs where solar is viable. There's lots of space on malls and so on that could have solar panels that nobody would even be able to see except from the air.

    • Glass is a lot tougher than people think. This glass especially - it takes a quarter million tons to crack it. They broke the testing machine.

    • by MrL0G1C ( 867445 )

      What is going to prevent these plates from getting scratched and rendered useless shortly by studded tires, gravel, snow plows, etc.

      If the road is going to melt the snow then why on earth would you need these?

      i think solar roof tiles is a much better idea.

      You say that as if the two ideas are mutually exclusive which of course they're not.

      What I find distasteful is that they are asking for donations, that is not the way to run a business. FFS if you want money then get investors, don't be asking people for t

    • No one has mentioned earthquakes. A strong quake would probably destroy a road like this.

  • Shit doesn't work (Score:2, Informative)

    by DemoLiter3 ( 704469 )
    The prototype tested in the Netherlands had not much success because it failed to glow properly after a rainy day (link []). The issue is like with any kind of solar power - it simply does not work if there is no or too little sun.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      According to this article, unless I didn't read it correctly, the solar technology they're talking about involves solar panels under a glass surface roadway. The article you cite only references the use of glow in the dark paint.

      • That seems like a bad idea. Roads take a lot of abuse.

        Why not make mile markers and guardrails with small windmills on them. The drafts from traffic would drive the generators.

        They do this in Japan; kinda. The reflectors on the roadside use the drafts from cars to spin a protective disc that cleans the reflectors. It's not 100%, but nothing ever is...

    • As far as I understood it at the time, that was an environmental (moisture) resilience problem, not an insufficient daylight illumination problem.
    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) *

      You are citing the Daily Fail on a solar story? You know they hate anything "eco", right?

      Yeah, it has had some issues with moisture. Prototypes often have issues, that's why you prototype things.

    • by Thruen ( 753567 )
      The article you link to has nothing to do with the Solar Roadways project, it's just another link to the same story about glow in the dark roads that was already posted in the summary. Thanks for trying, though.

      I'm not defending Solar Roadways, mind you, as much as I'd love to see this being used and working perfectly as intended across the world, I don't really think it's going to happen any time soon.
    • by Richy_T ( 111409 )

      Good luck on getting that anyway. Here, they don't even use the paint with the reflective balls in it. Hence road markings disappear with a little rain. The roads are pretty good otherwise though.

  • Costs?!?? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ErikTheRed ( 162431 ) on Thursday May 15, 2014 @12:46AM (#47006361) Homepage

    I've seen a pile of articles on this, and never once in them has anybody even scratched the topic of cost. Which would kind of be important, one would thing. Turns out, they don't know or aren't saying. From their FAQ:

    "We are not yet able to give numbers on cost. We are still in the midst of our Phase II contract with the Federal Highway Administration and we'll be analyzing our prototype costs near the end of our contract which ends in July, 2014. Afterward, we'll be able to do a production-style cost analysis."

    There are a hundred billion cool ideas out there, but if they're not cost effective than who cares?

    • That's actually the easiest part to solve. Just put ads onto the road surface!

      Now combine this with cameras or other sensors that identify the cars and tailor the ads to the drivers' interests. Ka-ching!

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by Jim Sadler ( 3430529 )
      You are dead on about costs not being considered.. And it is not just in new products either. It has been understood for many decades that gasoline and diesel exhaust cause a lot of death and disease and that environmental clean up was required. Yet there has been no effort to define what one more mile of road or one more car or truck burning fossil fuels generates in negative costs. Both individuals and businesses have trouble with issues they do not wish to confront. Burning fossil fuels and g
    • You have to reach the $1,000 reward tier before they'll send you even a 4-inch hexagon of the surface glass as a reward. I'm going to guess that their processes are not in the dollars-per-square foot range.

      • I don't think the reward is tied to the overall success of the funding campaign. And the target date for receiving the reward is October. Hardly enough time to ramp up a full production facility by then.

        tl;dr You're getting a prototype

    • Here in Toronto we have a road called the Gardiner Expressway. It's literally falling apart. We can't afford to fix it. We also can't afford to dismantle it. So it's becoming a more and more serious safety issue over the years. The point of my story is, just laying asphalt is too expensive, and these people want to upgrade to fancy cyber-roads?!
  • ... only optimum conditions are envisioned. I did not see any attention paid to less than optimum conditions. As such, this project fails before it even starts.
    • ... only optimum conditions are envisioned. I did not see any attention paid to less than optimum conditions. As such, this project fails before it even starts.

      According to article and videos; optimum conditions are without asphalt road ways. All through those videos I was waiting for the structure of the road this pieces of glass would be laid on. Never came up and I see it as another major expense.

      The glass can't shift - asphalt out, can't be put on lines of concrete road ways (expansion/contraction).

      Never did they refer to it, as after the hook is set, monies collected, it's mentioned a whole new roadway must be prepared for these things. (Or close). Point- re

  • Idiots. IDIOTS! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by slashmydots ( 2189826 ) on Thursday May 15, 2014 @12:51AM (#47006387)
    The NUMBER ONE infrastructure budgeting problem in America right now is that roads cost too much. Not bridge repair or aging electrical grids or anything like that. Just purely by the dollars, it's the cost of roads. I know! Let's make them more expensive for a reason that solves a problem that doesn't exist. My headlights + titanium fleck paint means I can see the lines just fine. I also don't need the road to literally tell me it's raining or snowing or below zero. The road tells me that already just be looking at it.
    • I am constantly surprised we aren't working harder to have three dimensional travel --and not need to build/maintain all of this infrastructure.

      • Then you simply don't understand the laws of physics. Moving something in the air requires fighting gravity constantly, our methods of doing so are far less efficient than the energy lost when matter itself is physically converted to energy fighting gravity, which is so tiny that its effectively undetectable outside of stars.

        • Moving something in the air requires fighting gravity constantly ...

          Give These guys [] a call - I'm sure they can be available constantly for such an important task.

    • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

      No it's not. the #1 problem is morons that are elected trying to make budgets. none of them are accountants, most can barely walk and chew gum at the same time.

      Until we drastically increase the IQ of elected officials as well as increase their honesty level everything will stay a mess.

    • We've too many roads going to too many places that don't justify the expense of dropping 40 million a mile. And it is about aging.

      It's a rolling problem. We started out with town roads, then county roads, then state roads, then interstates. And we happily kept building more. But the roads fall apart on a steady schedule even as we merrily throw down more. What happens is you spend more every year just to keep up what your great-grandfather made, your grandfather made, your father made, and eventually the b

  • by m00sh ( 2538182 ) on Thursday May 15, 2014 @12:51AM (#47006391)

    I think this would make for an excellent driveway/sidewalk material. It could have motions detectors and be used as lights. During the day, it would work as solar panels. Sidewalks and driveways cost around $5/sq ft for concrete and $10/sq ft for bricks. I think it they cost around $15/sq ft I think a lot of people would go for it, esp if they already have other solar equipment in the house.

    I'm sure lots of specialty uses are possible - like casinos or paving Main St with this so it looks really fancy.

    I know road budgets are astronomical and so, I would think it would depend a lot on how much these cost to make, maintain and replace. In most cases, labor is at least half the cost and so, it would depend on how much more expensive these are than asphalt.

    • That is exactly what their plan is. Start with sidewalks and parking lots to learn and work all the kinks out of the system before moving on to roadways.

  • Our roads need to be repaired almost constantly. How does this improve the situation? How about a dumb road that does it's job for 80 years straight?

    • by TrollstonButterbeans ( 2914995 ) on Thursday May 15, 2014 @01:02AM (#47006453)
      "Our roads need to be repaired almost constantly. How does this improve the situation? How about a dumb road that does it's job for 80 years straight?"

      What the fuck?

      Can't you see from the video that these roads are made from hexagons?

      And they glow in the dark?

      And if these roads get damaged, it can electrocute common nuisances like earthworms, birds, little kids and the like?

      And all of these features are solar powered, so you know it is green (except for the toxic chemicals in the solar panels these things deposit in the water supply when it rains).

      People like you are why we don't have progress and why some little kids in Asia are choking on smog and you don't care, which makes you a jerk!
      • Actually, the parent's post is not funny at all, considering that graphene based solar technology has reached over 15% efficiency in recent efforts [], and I would bet environmentally friendly solutions will continue to double in efficiency over a given time period. After all, we're chasing the benchmarks established by plants.

        As far as roads go, here's an opportunity to leverage a massive area of square footage that is guaranteed to be clear of plants or other obstructions, that would benefit from power a
        • "As far as roads go, here's an opportunity to leverage a massive area of square footage that is guaranteed to be clear of plants or other obstructions"

, it's actually guaranteed to be obstructed frequently, by cars, leaves, snow and ice (the suggestion of melting these away is absurd, there's nowhere near enough power for it), dust and dirt, machine grime, nearby trees, its own textured surface, etc. In addition, with all the stuff embedded in them and the enormous quantity of modules needed, things

          • "Those who say it can't be done are often interrupted by those who are doing it."
            • I didn't say it couldn't be done. I said it was a terrible idea, and that your claimed advantage (guarantee of being free from obstruction) didn't actually exist. The same solar cells placed in a solar farm located in a sunny area without a thick layer of textured, dirty glass, leaves, vehicles, etc between them and the sun could easily produce several times the output. The electronics and cabling used to collect the power and convert it to a useful form would be put to far better use in such a farm, in a r

        • I'm all for new technology and experimentation.

          But roads are like your skin. Or like the tires on your car.

          Roads absorb wear and tear. Roads need constant attention. Roads get potholes.

          Your skin constantly grows and absorbs wear and tear. Tires absorb wear and tear and need replaced on a regular basis. Roads have to take a ton of abuse.
        • After all, we're chasing the benchmarks established by plants.

          You can't be serious. Even the commonly used panels are about an order of magnitude more efficient than plants. If plants are our benchmark, we surpassed it ages ago.

          • You're right. Given the research into trying to better understand photosynthesis, I was under the impression that it was still more efficient than PVE. It is about an order of magnitude less than PVE.
      • Rush Limbaugh posts here?

    • Our roads need to be repaired almost constantly. How does this improve the situation? How about a dumb road that does it's job for 80 years straight?

      The dumb roads around here get stripped and resurfaced about every 5 years, and we don't even have things like snow and ice to age them. Just sun and traffic.

      80 years????

  • Parking garages, though... Lighted arrows and lines to direct people to empty slots might be useful. It could be useful for intersections which have highly variable traffic patterns, where adding additional turn lanes dynamically is useful. Stadiums often do that, with a small army of people moving traffic cones around.

    Solar powered snow melting seems unlikely to work. If you really need snow melting, the power requirements are huge. The cutting edge of technology there is induction heating of snow in r []

  • by pmontra ( 738736 ) on Thursday May 15, 2014 @03:04AM (#47006781) Homepage

    We don't need another source of light pollution.

    • Won't the LEDs cause light pollution?

      We want to do everything we can to minimize light pollution. The LEDs can be dimmed or even turned off if no vehicles are on the road. We envision activating the LEDs 1/2 mile ahead and 1/4 mile behind a vehicle. If you were to see the adjacent lane lighting up, then you'd know an oncoming vehicle is 1/2 mile ahead.

      In addition, I suspect that you could also key the roadside lighting into the same car detection circuits. And it would only be a matter of time before some bright spark suggested turning them off completely - after all, the road markings are already illuminated.

    • If only we could paint road markings with some magic substance which would take light from the headlamps and reflect it directly back to the light source, so the markings would appear bright to the driver. Nah, that's crazy. You'd have to make paint with billions of microscopic reflectors or something. And how would you ever get them lined up to reflect back at the cars? Nope, embedded LEDs are definitely the way to go.
    • The road-surface lights go on in an emergency situation, I'd think. Not really necessary. But the roads could power the overhead lights at night.

  • []

    Costs: the idea is that this would cost less than building normal solar pannels AND roads; Moreover, they would also replace the need for powerlines as they are inteded to be part of the distrubtion system. Thus price for new developments shouldn't be an issue.

    Repair: Most road damage is due to heavy trucking and utilitys digging them up. The solar roads are designed to withstand and excess 250,000 pounds, and the pannels are modular, which means they can be removed and

  • I don't know about anyone else, but I find roads that are 'bright' such as when street lights reflect off black asphalt during the rain VERY difficult to see properly on.

    I can't see the entire road glowing as a good thing. Lines and indicators which are slightly lit so they are more visible, sure. The entire road surface? Absolutely not. Its bad enough dealing with oncoming headlights and being able to see other things in the unlit areas.

    • I'm not a big fan of this idea either, but I just want to point out that if the roads were glowing, you probably wouldn't have to worry about oncoming headlights.
    • by Gryle ( 933382 )
      Seconded. Frankly, the lighting situation at night is bad enough. Car manufacturers keep uping the brightness of their headlights. Some of the newer models are damn near blinding, even without their high-beams on, at least to me. Suddenly the whole road is glowing? I think I'd probably have to cease driving after dark.
  • It's a pipe dream. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Chas ( 5144 ) on Thursday May 15, 2014 @07:14AM (#47007513) Homepage Journal

    They simply won't stand up to the wear and tear.

    They talk about how such a road can withstand loads in excess of a quarter million pounds.

    Okay. But what about SHEARING FORCES? In a lot of cases this, not straight downward pressure, is what tears up roadways.

    You also have heave in the roadways. Now, most roadways are built in such a way that heave is minimized, but there still is some that has to be factored in.

    Also, what will weeks/months/years of thermal and physical stresses do to the surface? Here in Chicago, the roadways get replaced every 5-10 years.

    How do these things handle a puddle of burning gasoline from an accident? Or howsabout an entire carbecue raging away on the surface?

    And once the surface is breached (and it WILL be breached), you have an environmental hazard on your hands.

    And how much will it cost to build these things? Compare the coverage to an asphalt or reinforced concrete roadway on materials cost alone. Not to mention the specialty labor for installation. ORDERS OF MAGNITUDE.

    You're also going to be installing this expensive road surface in areas that traditionally don't get much sun.

    Rush hour anyone?

    Currently, most solar cells STILL don't make back their manufacturing costs within the lifetime of the product.

    As for loss of transparency due to wear? "It is thought to have a maximum reduction" basically means "They don't know, but they'll ass-pull a number out for you."

    • Or howsabout an entire carbecue raging away on the surface?

      Thank you.

      That great new word was just added to my casual vocabulary and simultaneously made today's time-wasting on /. worthwhile!


    • Let's build a few miles of solar roads and find out.

    • by hurfy ( 735314 )

      I wonder what happens if we combine this road with a trailer hitch and a Tesla.

      Really, what if said trailer hitch falls on the road. These things really don't break? You think the potholes are nasty now ;O

  • by TheRealHocusLocus ( 2319802 ) on Thursday May 15, 2014 @07:32AM (#47007599)

    I feel sorry for Smart Roads. They're so smart, deep down they must realize how many miles of Dumb Roads could have been built for the same money.

    I feel sorry for those embedded hexagonal tiles too. They must have known as the grout hardened around them that it was a one way trip into a soul-less, sorry-ass world. At the semiconductor plant there was so much optimism and excitement, everyone was buzzing about becoming an integral part of the ongoing man-machine synergy. Of course when everyone graduates from silicon college they all think they'll be the ones to stretch Shannon's limits and change information states in an intricate dance party of information-sharing, everyone connected. But what happens is, so many are diverted to become these simple blinky-light drone units on a lonely road as countless strangers fly over them. Heartless strangers. And through the cruel geometry of the hexagon, only six adjacent units to keep them company. For ETERNITY.

    Covered with tempered glass for Pete's sake. Even the glass is pissed off by this idea, it has already lost its temper as it is being cemented into place. I'm glass goddammit, roads are like playgrounds where all the kids are mean and gravel and skidding tires are everywhere. Gravel hurts. The glass knows its glorious transparency and reflectivity will soon be gouged and cratered, the pane dissolves into a translucent pain of dwindling light.

    The solar cells under the doomed glass are perhaps the saddest of all. To lose their photon stream bit by bit until a mere trickle of current escapes them is purgatory without end. Soon all of them will be barely functional, trapped under road, when they could have been some where out in the sunshine.

    It is merciful when a load of dirt just covers them up on the shoulder and just hardens there, they can settle in for a nap.

    During the first frost of Winter everyone in the hexagonal array is overjoyed when the heating wires kicked in and electrons begin to jump out of their shells once more. But soon it was obvious that something was very wrong. "Hey, ease off! There's delicate electronics in here!" But trapped within their isolated pockets of trapped heat they realize that no one can hear their cries. The heat element, though it can deliver a continuous torment to the components inside, would never melt a thick layer of ice. "Someone duid not do the math. Help us!"

    But no help comes, and soon the project hits cost overruns is abandoned. One day the control signals go silent, and once again a wave of dismay sweeps across the trapped colony of orphaned electronics. There is no more purpose in life, but thanks to the cruel embedding of solar cells, life will go on.

    It's all just so damned horrible.

  • Are you fucking kidding? Our infrastructure is close to third world status. We can't even fill the potholes, but we'll toss around the idea of solar powered glow in the dark bullshit?

    New car headlights are better than ever. They are simply fantastic. Reflective paint on the side of the road is simple, cheap and works well.

    Let's solve the real problems first, and teach people to pay attention when they drive.

"The number of Unix installations has grown to 10, with more expected." -- The Unix Programmer's Manual, 2nd Edition, June, 1972