The highway of the future – Oss, The Netherlands

On my recent trip to Europe I also visited my hometown Oss, Brabant, in the southern (better J) part of the Netherlands. Here I drove on the ‘Highway of the Future’, a 6km access road from one of the main the freeways into the city and its industrial areas. This local project has national significance and received national funding. The aim of the project is for this road to become the reference for future road design.

Dutch innovation company Reframing Studiowith a team with architects, landscapers and information architects, reframed the assignment which was geared towards construction, road and landscape design. The instruction was to design a road that provided a smoother traffic flow, less traffic jams and balanced speeds in order to build a more sustainable and energy-efficient road.

A very important conclusion was that the potential benefits of the sustainability measures, such as adding devices that generate or capture and store energy, are marginal in comparison with the behavioural aspects of driving: even a very modest improvement in speed or less breaking and acceleration will result in massive improvements that can be captured every single minute the road processes its traffic.

Energy systems

Street lighting systems and road signs were specially designed for this road to operate as a Green Road. The energy for the street lighting if provided by solar panels. The road has energy sensors that detect motion, and allows the street lights to be dimmed when needed.

The road also has luminous markings, which go one step further than just reflecting, and thus increases the visibility. The photo luminescent paint composition takes the sun’s energy during the day and at night the markings will still radiate for up to ten hours. The technology behind it is that atoms in the paint move to a lower energy state and emit the energy released as electromagnetic radiation. This is designed so that it falls within the wavelength range of visible light for humans, so they can be seen by us. The company is also in the process of developing special paint that glows in freezing temperatures. Freezing temperatures can trigger an ingredient in paint, and when that happens the symbol for ice crystals appears on the road, reminding drivers that the road might be slippery. This feature is still under development.

Separately, last winter Dutch engineering firm, Ooms, tested and developed a Road Energy System whereby the summer heat generated by the asphalt of the main road is captured and used through tubes under the surface, to heat water which is held at temperature underground. This groundwater gets pumped to surrounding premises where it is used for heating. In winter the warm water can also be used to keep the road surface ice- and snow-free. However, only a 400 meter stretch road has been equipped with this technology purely for proof of concept, it is not implemented as a live feature.

A smart road

My first reaction was that the road offered a very smooth ride, but then most new roads will give you that experience. Your attention is immediately attracted by the green led light road indicators, on the side of the road. Known as ‘Flowman’ once this is fully operational you will never get a red traffic light if you ‘drive with these lights’. If you see the light ‘rushing’ in front of you, you are driving too fast and will inevitably have to stop for traffic lights. When I used the road this system was still under construction as they were gathering sufficient traffic information for the data analytics needed to calculate traffic flows, make estimates, etc.

There is also a more elaborate service under development called ‘ In-car information’…..

In-car information

The ‘In-car information’ is an app that will aggregate the driving behaviour of the drivers on this road and advise the individual drivers in real time on how they actually are driving, and how they should drive at this particular moment. Since the app ‘knows’ everything’, it will be able to instruct the driver in order to avoid traffic jams, accidents, red lights etc.  The app picks up engine metrics that are available through the On Board Diagnostic system (OBD – all modern cars have one on the dashboard). The development team connected a WiFi transmitter to this port, turning their test car into a ‘data space’. The app reads these metrics and assesses how cleanly, safely or sensibly the car is being driven. The innovative aspect is that it not only considers the driving behavior of the app user but also that of the car in front, as well as others who are passing that trajectory in space and time. On the basis of this aggregated date it calculates a personal desired driving plan and adapts its feedback continuously, based on the driver’s actual response. Individual drivers can access the database to get access to their own logs and stats and compare these with the rest of the population.

Paul Budde

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