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Are Glowing, Solar Smart Roads the Future?

samzenpus posted about 3 months ago | from the all-the-better-to-drive-on dept.

Transportation 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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Pipe Dream I suspect (4, Insightful)

Camel Pilot (78781) | about 3 months ago | (#47006345)

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.

Re:Pipe Dream I suspect (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47006435)

they claim that they wont need to be plowed because they are heated. if that claim is true studded tires and snow plows shouldn't be on them really

IF the claims they make are all true then i think it has potential

Re:Pipe Dream I suspect (1)

Camel Pilot (78781) | about 3 months ago | (#47006485)

I have put in driveway snowmelt systems and a typically driveway needs at a minimum ~100 kbtu/hr boiler to keep the driveway clear. Scaling that up to a road way and it would be astronomical.

Re:Pipe Dream I suspect (1)

Mashiki (184564) | about 3 months ago | (#47006535)

Really what would work better would be energy from waste, sadly the nimby's want nothing to do with it.

Re:Pipe Dream I suspect (1)

jklovanc (1603149) | about 3 months ago | (#47007021)

Even waste heat is difficult to use. Sure there is a lot of waste heat around but the trick is to concentrate and transport the heat to where it is needed. Waste heat dissipates quickly.

Re:Pipe Dream I suspect (2)

michelcolman (1208008) | about 3 months ago | (#47007263)

How about vibrations from the cars and trucks passing over them? On a busy highway that would create plenty of energy.

Re:Pipe Dream I suspect (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47007681)

If you extract that energy from the vehicles, you've merely moved the energy production frmo a high-efficiency powerplant to a redneck modified diesel pickup. This is not a "good thing" for those of us who want our children to have a liveable atmosphere.

Re:Pipe Dream I suspect (1)

Bruha (412869) | about 3 months ago | (#47006581)

We'll the idea is that these roads are part of the power grid so in theory they get their energy from areas that's still sunny to help melt the road where it's icy.

Re:Pipe Dream I suspect (1)

jklovanc (1603149) | about 3 months ago | (#47007031)

The "get it from sunny areas" is a simplistic solution. Sunny areas may be far away (transmission capacity/loss), The sunny areas may actually be quite cloudy( low capacity), the sunny area may be in peak usage and not have extra to sent other places.

Re:Pipe Dream I suspect (5, Informative)

stoploss (2842505) | about 3 months ago | (#47006739)

I have put in driveway snowmelt systems and a typically driveway needs at a minimum ~100 kbtu/hr boiler to keep the driveway clear. Scaling that up to a road way and it would be astronomical.

That was my thought as well. Phase change is a bitch, so I anticipated this was a marketing gimmick. I decided to run some quick calculations to determine how much snow could be melted by a 1 m^2 solar heating roadway plate thing.

Solar Roadways is in Idaho, so I decided to use their location for stats. I decided to use an average insolation value [solar-electric.com] of 2 kWh/day in December in Idaho. I disregarded the fact that these plates won't be tilted to compensate for latitude, which will give the roadway an artificially improved performance stat. I used an enthalpy of fusion for water [wikipedia.org] as 334 kJ/kg. I used a 50 kg/m^3 value for the density of freshly-fallen snow [sciencelearn.org.nz] . Finally, I decided to let the road panel have a 15% PV efficiency as well as a 100% solar panel coverage (neither of which is likely to be realistic for a road tile thing, but again this is in favor of the roadway panel).

So, how much snow can this melt per day? Call it 6.5 cm [google.com] . In practice, I'm guessing the answer is closer to "0", because the instant the panel is covered by snow it will cease generating energy. Also, snowstorms are not known to occur during bright, bright, sunshiny days. It seems Solar Roadways expects their panels to be hooked to the grid and pull power to melt snow.

Therefore, this exercise devolves to "why haven't we installed electric radiant heat in our existing roadways to melt snow?"

Well, if we have a four lane standard US highway (12 ft lanes) and we need to melt that same 6.5 cm of freshly fallen snow, it would require 4.4 MWh [google.com] (yes, megawatt-hours). In Idaho, it looks like an average wholesale rate for 1 MWh of electricity [eia.gov] is approximately $150. So... call it $600 per km to melt a few cm of snow... once? And this is for light, fluffy, happy snow, not the slushy sleety shit that has the density of neutronium and gives grandpa a heart attack when he tries to shovel it.

Unless I dropped a few orders of magnitude here (please let me know if I did), it seems the answer to this is "just use the fucking salt instead, like we have been doing." In conclusion, perhaps the LED roadway is useful, but the snow melting bit really seems to be a gimmick.

Re:Pipe Dream I suspect (1)

rioki (1328185) | about 3 months ago | (#47007243)

This is basically the same reason why Munich does not have a maglev train (Transrapid) from the city to the airport. It is not because it is not technically feasible, the Shanghai installation proves that, but because it is not economically sensible. In the case of the Transrapid the train is almost a permanent magnet and the track is "intelligent" and pushes the train along the line. This means that the track needs lots of copper and a good number of circuits to control the magnetic field. The train costs around the same as a normal train, but the track is orders of a magnitude more expensive.

This is basically the same with these "smart roads". Just the installation will be horrendously expensive with little gain in some special case scenarios. I can imagine them installed in some very special cases where you would want some form of dynamic routing. But then it would make more sense to install large OLED / LCD strips with only little circuitry.

I think the Norwegian idea of coating the roads with photoluminescent materials is altogether a better idea.

Re:Pipe Dream I suspect (-1, Flamebait)

AmiMoJo (196126) | about 3 months ago | (#47007583)

Using solar PV for keeping snow off roads would be dumb. Thanks for pointing that out, Captain Obvious.

Solar thermal on the other hand does work quite well. You only need to keep the temperature a little above zero to stop snow laying.

Re:Pipe Dream I suspect (1)

delt0r (999393) | about 3 months ago | (#47007061)

That already is astronomical. Wouldn't salt be better?

Re:Pipe Dream I suspect (1)

Trax3001BBS (2368736) | about 3 months ago | (#47006585)

they claim that they wont need to be plowed because they are heated. if that claim is true studded tires and snow plows shouldn't be on them really

IF the claims they make are all true then i think it has potential

People put on snow tires as a part of Fall, wither needed nor not. They will have them on when they cross these plates, as they aren't global yet or even city wide. You can't ask someone to remove their studs before crossing over them - you can detour them.

Re:Pipe Dream I suspect (3, Insightful)

rioki (1328185) | about 3 months ago | (#47007269)

snow tiers != studded tires

The tires you leave on from around October to March are definitely not studded tires. Having studded tries sound like a really bad idea until you are close or below the freezing point. The studs provide little to none traction on a road with no snow or ice. The reason why you have winter / summer tires is because the rubber has different optimal operating temperatures. In summer with winter tires they are to sticky and you waste fuel, in winter with summer tires they are to rigid and you have only little traction.

The places where you have a snow cover for multiple months on end it may make sense to have studded tires, since you won't need to put on snow chains. But then you are normally forced (and it is sensible) to a rather low speed when you have studded tires by law.

Re:Pipe Dream I suspect (0)

wooferhound (546132) | about 3 months ago | (#47007589)

I use 10w40 tires, they adjust to the temperature

Re:Pipe Dream I suspect (1)

rioki (1328185) | about 3 months ago | (#47007783)

All year tires work too...

Re:Pipe Dream I suspect (1)

jklovanc (1603149) | about 3 months ago | (#47007011)

Do you have any idea how much energy it would take to melt snow off a road during a -20 blizzard? It is not practical on many areas. Unless all the roads are snow and ice free there will still be use for studded tires/chains.

Re:Pipe Dream I suspect (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47007641)

Yep. Even without being 20 below, Massachusetts got a nice set of storms this last winter, and we were plowing like crazy. Multiple feet of accumulation. Good luck melting that off a road when it's coming down in giant onion flakes. I will, however, applaud the first person to come up with a sane way to avoid salting the shit out of my car.

Re:Pipe Dream I suspect (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47006741)

I think there will be 3D printers embedded every half mile or so and the road will self-repair overnight.

We are The Road, resistance is futile (1)

Tablizer (95088) | about 3 months ago | (#47006763)

So that's how the Borg started.

Re:Pipe Dream I suspect (4, Funny)

fastest fascist (1086001) | about 3 months ago | (#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.

Re:Pipe Dream I suspect (1)

captainpanic (1173915) | about 3 months ago | (#47006975)

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 investment for energy.
2. The tiles are way more expensive than ordinary asphalt or bricks.
--> As a result of the higher costs, the tiles will not be an interesting investment for a road surface.

If we would really be running out of space, this may be efficient. But as the OP said, we still have lots of roofs, and plenty of other empty spaces. Use that first.

Oh Don't Worry (0)

The Cat (19816) | about 3 months ago | (#47006347)

Slashdot will be along any minute now to explain why it will never work and why China can build it cheaper.

Oh Don't Worry (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47006355)

Seriously. I'd hate to analyze a situation using the facts that are in play.

Re:Oh Don't Worry (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47006945)

You won't.

Shit doesn't work (2, Informative)

DemoLiter3 (704469) | about 3 months ago | (#47006353)

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

Re: Shit doesn't work (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47006475)

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.

Re: Shit doesn't work (1)

Bios_Hakr (68586) | about 3 months ago | (#47007183)

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...

Re:Shit doesn't work (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 3 months ago | (#47006579)

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

Re:Shit doesn't work (2)

AmiMoJo (196126) | about 3 months ago | (#47007579)

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.

Re:Shit doesn't work (2)

Thruen (753567) | about 3 months ago | (#47007729)

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.

Costs?!?? (4, Insightful)

ErikTheRed (162431) | about 3 months ago | (#47006361)

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?

Re:Costs?!?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47006807)

There are some possible very good explanations for this.

At an early stage it can be very difficult to estimate production and labour costs.

Let's say this type of tempered glass is made in a very manual process that requires tooling by hand, manual oversight of the process and measurements by hand. Or that it's ordered from a factory which has to shut down other work to do it, wants a profit margin on top, charges extra because they are a small and new customer, and because the existing machinery isn't ideal.

What will the cost be if you are mass manufacturing 100 million of these in a purpose-designed plant? It can be very hard to estimate.

Re:Costs?!?? (2)

michelcolman (1208008) | about 3 months ago | (#47007281)

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:Costs?!?? (1, Troll)

Jim Sadler (3430529) | about 3 months ago | (#47007287)

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 global warming are both issues the public wishes to not understand. Half the yokels are just getting a tiny bit comfortable with the concept of evolution.

Re:Costs?!?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47007377)

I watched the video from the link, the glass 'passed skid test', which I find very funny, since the NHTSA, has yet to do something to eliminate the already standard painted lines from turning into glass after it rains, or after they get a little moisture. So I am going to believe nor trust the testing of this product to be labeled as safe.

Their have been thousands of complaints over the painted lines, and yet nothing has been done. I have to do some research on this company and their preliminary tests. This is the same thing they said about the glow-in-the-dark lines, and now in a real environment it hasn't been all that great. But that too is still an experiment....

I still find it funny the government and other companies will spend money on stuff like this, but will not follow the German auto bond on how to build quality, safe roads. In my state [and probably most states] they keep wasting money on rebuilding interstate roads, which has been going on since they were supposedly a finished project. Not to mention the state maintained roads which of course seem to never be finished or continually added/expand. The amount of wasted money towards this could and should have already been injected into other infrastructure, this country is retarded when it comes to common sense. .

Re:Costs?!?? (1)

Sockatume (732728) | about 3 months ago | (#47007687)

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.

Like many pipe dreams... (1)

QuietLagoon (813062) | about 3 months ago | (#47006367)

... 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.

Re:Like many pipe dreams... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47006479)

There are vast swaths of the American Southwest that usually have optimum conditions (little rain, lots of sunshine). It may not work well in Chicago (I'd like to see what the salt and snow plows would do to it), but It would probably work perfectly well in Phoenix.

dom

Re:Like many pipe dreams... (1)

Trax3001BBS (2368736) | about 3 months ago | (#47006643)

... 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- remove the asphalt you have a sand and rocks to allow drainage, which would unsettle the area shifting the glass.

So you remove the asphalt and replace it with concrete, there no savings there, it's a very expensive and time consuming process.

I wish them luck, but I don't see this happening. -- Get with the Army to build you a test road, I've seen them do it a few times.

What optimum conditions (1)

maroberts (15852) | about 3 months ago | (#47006701)

They assumed only 4 hours of sunlight and a poor efficiency factor. Their prototype testing was in Idaho, not california. The panels are designed to withstand loading of 250,000pounds.

They were fairly pessimistic in their design assumptions, so it ought to be given a chance.

Road hazard much? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47006377)

How much traction can you get between a rubber tire and tempered glass?

you'll get a lot of static electricity (1)

YesIAmAScript (886271) | about 3 months ago | (#47006393)

Not much grip though.

Re:Road hazard much? (5, Informative)

blueturffan (867705) | about 3 months ago | (#47006607)

From the FAQ:

What are you going to do about traction? What's going to happen to the surface of the Solar Roadways when it rains?

Everyone naturally pictures sliding out of control on a smooth piece of wet glass! Actually, one of our many technical specs is that it be textured to the point that it provides at least the traction that current asphalt roads offer - even in the rain. We hesitate to even call it glass, as it is far from a traditional window pane, but glass is what it is, so glass is what we must call it.

We sent samples of textured glass to a university civil engineering lab for traction testing. We started off being able to stop a car going 40 mph on a wet surface in the required distance. We designed a more and more aggressive surface pattern until we got a call form the lab one day: we'd torn the boot off of the British Pendulum Testing apparatus! We backed off a little and ended up with a texture that can stop a vehicle going 80 mph in the required distance.

For this to be feasible... (1)

Payden K. Pringle (3483599) | about 3 months ago | (#47006379)

Assuming it can become the norm everywhere (huge assumption there)...

I imagine we will replace our coal plants with large battery plants to store all the extra power we get during the day so that these things can function well at night (having to only power sections of road with vehicles on them would probably make that very feasible).

Then the electricity bill wouldn't be for the actual electricity. It'd be for maintaining these large battery store houses and maintaining these roads. I mean really, if we laid out a ton of this stuff across the US (the desert regions specifically), I figure electricity would be dirt cheap if not free (aside from the aforementioned maintenance).

The only way I can see this actually happening is if the solar panel roads become ubiquitous, which as I said, is a huge assumption. The oil industry won't have it, and getting the capital to produce enough panels to make it worth while, then lay them across major highways would be massive. Then there's building the battery centers so that they can actually function at night (or we can shift to coal power for night time).

I think this is something that would definitely pay off in the long run, but probably won't happen for the same reasons other things similar to it didn't happen. i.e. big business and lobbyists.

Re:For this to be feasible... (1)

m00sh (2538182) | about 3 months ago | (#47006437)

Assuming it can become the norm everywhere (huge assumption there)...

I imagine we will replace our coal plants with large battery plants to store all the extra power we get during the day so that these things can function well at night (having to only power sections of road with vehicles on them would probably make that very feasible).

Then the electricity bill wouldn't be for the actual electricity. It'd be for maintaining these large battery store houses and maintaining these roads. I mean really, if we laid out a ton of this stuff across the US (the desert regions specifically), I figure electricity would be dirt cheap if not free (aside from the aforementioned maintenance).

The only way I can see this actually happening is if the solar panel roads become ubiquitous, which as I said, is a huge assumption. The oil industry won't have it, and getting the capital to produce enough panels to make it worth while, then lay them across major highways would be massive. Then there's building the battery centers so that they can actually function at night (or we can shift to coal power for night time).

I think this is something that would definitely pay off in the long run, but probably won't happen for the same reasons other things similar to it didn't happen. i.e. big business and lobbyists.

If electricity was super cheap during the day, I'm sure there will be lots of ways that will be used up instead of being stored in batteries. I'm sure data centers see most traffic during the day and so can turn off their data centers at night. Factories can also shut down at night.

The basic fact is that solar panels aren't efficient enough. The day solar panel becomes efficient, all these axillary technologies will bloom. Otherwise, oil industry won't have to even worry about it.

Re:For this to be feasible... (1)

rogoshen1 (2922505) | about 3 months ago | (#47006563)

cost of uprooting roads that already exist, where property values are higher, and businesses/residents would be effected: y
cost of building solar plants in scrub land that is currently not being used, and due to not being used for any economic purpose, is dirt cheap: x.

In what universe ... is y x?
really? :(

the united states is huge. and has tons of roads. but most of the space is either empty, or very sparsly populated rural land, maybe focus on building solar/solar thermal arrays there first? maybe?

Re:For this to be feasible... (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 3 months ago | (#47006597)

The basic fact is that solar panels aren't efficient enough

Oh, they're plenty efficient. And if you're really after efficiency, just go for multi-junction cells mounted in light-concentrating assemblies, to get rid of their high price tag. But that really only lessens the necessary real estate. I don't think it makes anything magically cheaper. So it's only useful in places where there isn't enough space.

No (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47006383)

or to put it another way: no.

Idiots. IDIOTS! (3, Insightful)

slashmydots (2189826) | about 3 months ago | (#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.

Re:Idiots. IDIOTS! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47006923)

> roads cost too much.

No. They only cost a lot compared to what Republicans are willing to spend. They hate spending money to make roads safer for children. They'd rather see a dozen children dead in traffic accidents than spend a single dollar on infrastructure. That is the way of their kind.

Re:Idiots. IDIOTS! (1)

jklovanc (1603149) | about 3 months ago | (#47007113)

BS. Thank you for the classic "what about the children" argument. We are not talking about a few dollars here and there but more like billions. There is no way to make the roads completely safe and spending billions on an unattainable goal is just waste.

Re:Idiots. IDIOTS! (1)

visualight (468005) | about 3 months ago | (#47006969)

I am constantly surprised we aren't working harder to have three dimensional travel --and not need to build/maintain all of this infrastructure.

Re:Idiots. IDIOTS! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47007331)

Because Republicans would rather tear down homes owned by minorities to make children homeless than simply fly over them. New roads are all about screwing nonwhites.

Re:Idiots. IDIOTS! (2)

BitZtream (692029) | about 3 months ago | (#47007433)

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.

Re:Idiots. IDIOTS! (1)

Muad'Dave (255648) | about 3 months ago | (#47007709)

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

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

Re:Idiots. IDIOTS! (1)

Lumpy (12016) | about 3 months ago | (#47007389)

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.

What about sidewalks and driveway? (2)

m00sh (2538182) | about 3 months ago | (#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.

Re:What about sidewalks and driveway? (1)

blueturffan (867705) | about 3 months ago | (#47006637)

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.

Does it fix the main problem? (1, Insightful)

Strange Ranger (454494) | about 3 months ago | (#47006397)

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?

WTF is wrong with you? (4, Funny)

TrollstonButterbeans (2914995) | about 3 months ago | (#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!

Re:WTF is wrong with you? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47006687)

Why u make no sense?

Re:WTF is wrong with you? (3)

jklappenbach (824031) | about 3 months ago | (#47007177)

Actually, the parent's post is not funny at all, considering that graphene based solar technology has reached over 15% efficiency in recent efforts [gizmag.com] , 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 and data networking, and if leveraged correctly, can be improved to save many lives.

Why anyone would choose to use this as an opportunity for ridicule is beyond me. Certainly the technology isn't ready yet, but I can see a clear pathway from idea to eventual perfection, given our penchant for achieving economics with scale. The resulting solution might not look anything like the original concept, but the idea of turning our roadways into an intelligent grid, featuring solar power generation, optics, data, and even thermal regulation is brilliant.

Re:WTF is wrong with you? (2)

cjameshuff (624879) | about 3 months ago | (#47007735)

"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"

Uh...no, 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 are going to break frequently, and maintenance access requires shutting down roads. Beneath the road surface is a *terrible* place for solar panels.

Re:Does it fix the main problem? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47006501)

Long-lived roads are too labor and time intensive to build. In places like California which doesn't freeze or even rain much in the populated parts, a good concrete roadway could last decades, as opposed the few years that the asphalt roads last (which are often laid atop the old concrete roadways). But funds are always limited, and it's much quicker and cheaper to just lay down some asphalt, even if long-term it would be cheaper to build it like we did 50 years ago. As in many industries, machines have resulted in a larger quantity of a low-quality product.

This tells me that glow-in-the-dark roadways just aren't economically viable except in some specialized areas, unless you can cheaply incorporate the technology into those humungous asphalt laying machines.

Re:Does it fix the main problem? (3, Interesting)

tlambert (566799) | about 3 months ago | (#47006725)

Long-lived roads are too labor and time intensive to build.

Germany seems to manage. But then again, they put their road work out to bid, and generally award the contract to whoever offers the longest warranty. If the state itself is doing the work, they don't have to compete on price or labor efficiency, and it's in the best interests of the people doing the work to consider their future employment options by doing a crappy job, similar to Wally's "I'm going to write myself a minivan!" reaction to the announcement of a "bug bounty" in the Dilbert comic strip.

There's a reason why the joke "The shortest distance between any two points is under construction" is not really that funny in California.

Re:Does it fix the main problem? (1)

RabidReindeer (2625839) | about 3 months ago | (#47007519)

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????

Nobody thought of things like maintenance? (1)

thieh (3654731) | about 3 months ago | (#47006405)

The repair is going to be nuts. Both the cost and the skill/work required. But then again, only (some) waterways and dirt road are truly repair-free.

Re:Nobody thought of things like maintenance? (1)

blueturffan (867705) | about 3 months ago | (#47006619)

From the FAQ:

How will you replace damaged panels in a highway?

Since our system is modular, repair will be much quicker and easier than our current maintenance system for asphalt roads. We've learned that in the U.S., over $160 billion is lost each year in lost productivity from people sitting in traffic due to road maintenance.

Each of the panels contain their own microprocessor, which communicates wireless with surrounding panels. If one of them should become damaged and stop communicating, then the rest of the panels can report the problem. For instance, "I-95 mile marker 114.3 northbound lane, third panel in, panel number A013C419 not responding".

Each panel assembly weighs 110-pounds. A single operator could load a good panel into his/her truck and respond to the scene. The panel could be swapped out and reprogrammed in a few minutes. The damaged panel would then be returned to a repair center. Think of how this compares to pot hole repair!

Re:Nobody thought of things like maintenance? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47006983)

Dirt roads repair free? I take it you've never lived in an area with dirt roads. They need to be regraded every year as eventually they start rutting out and washboarding.

Neat idea, but... (1)

Fusion6 (3654875) | about 3 months ago | (#47006409)

Seems like an huge and expensive project. I wonder how long systems like that would last for, and how long it would take to be repaired.

In a word, no. (1)

Animats (122034) | about 3 months ago | (#47006421)

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 railroad switches. [youtube.com] Many railroads in snowy areas heat their switches. But nobody heats the entire track.

Goodluck (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47006497)

I would love to see these work in the middle of a Minnesota winter. Seems like a good idea for warmer climates. The heating elements will do absolutely nothing other than make a layer of water under the ice, during a cold winter. Not to mention the fact that they would split apart during time when the wind chill is around -40. Ill stick with pavement and concrete.

Re:Goodluck (1)

blueturffan (867705) | about 3 months ago | (#47006629)

They were tested in the middle of a northern Idaho winter, and tests showed the snow being removed from the panels so effectively that the glass was dry.

Re: Goodluck (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47006821)

Trust me, you haven't seen a snowstorm until you get a 3ft+ dumping in one day...

Re: Goodluck (1)

91degrees (207121) | about 3 months ago | (#47007051)

So how about we simply don't use these in areas where we get 3ft dumpings of snow in a single day? Some places have a few days of snow per year.

Re: Goodluck (1)

weilawei (897823) | about 3 months ago | (#47007713)

New England is right out.

Coward's Rule again... (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47006511)

I believe it was A. Coward who first postulated that if a slashdot headline is a question, then the answer is "No".

EROEI (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47006549)

Are the panels replicating themselves?

Are we planning to have panels power electric refining and mining equipment? Power the plants to produce the panels? Power the transportation to move and install them?

Or are we going to use diesel powered machines to strip mine rare earth material, plaster this stuff at a net energy loss, and prop up car culture?

How long are they going to run in ideal conditions before they meet the net energy requirements to justify their production and transport? What about battery storage and wiring and all the energy that goes into producing the ancillary components? How long do the panels last?

You make me feel like dancing. (1)

dohzer (867770) | about 3 months ago | (#47006569)

Roads? Doubtful. But everyone will want multicoloured versions for their new mixed-purpose driveway/dancefloor!

Re:You make me feel like dancing. (1)

P Bacon (3557945) | about 3 months ago | (#47006963)

I'm keen.

What I really want (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47006653)

I don't want glowing, solar smart roads. What I really want are nubile girls that let me fuck them in the ass.

Needles merging. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47006697)

This suffers from the same problem I often see when people try to optimize code: needless merging of unrelated things. They have solar panels, power transition, and a hard driving surface. These 3 separate things are grouped for no good reason. Its even worse than solar cells with no sun tracking since the angle is fixed at that of the road. (For you CS guys: Loops are not expensive: don't overload your i-cache and hardware loop detection by merging all your loops! Keep separate things separate)

Suppose you put the same solar panels where its efficient to do so (not where the roads are). This means you can aim them at the sun, put them in places with more sun, and you don't to put them at ground level with cars driving on/covering them. You would get drastically more power if you put the same solar cells on fixed posts next to the road so you could angle them properly, and way more than that if you put them in areas that get more sun and even more if you tracking. Given that the featured road also served to provide power transmission, there is very little loss to doing this, and huge gains: their plan is stupid.

And if you with to argue that generating the power locally is beneficial because of potential transmission outages, thats BS. This thing is suppose to have enough power to melt snow and light up at night: huge loads when its not producing any power. Its dependent on external supplies and/or storage, and it it has local storage, local generation is not needed, and it the storage is non local, local generation does not help much.

So, the exact same parts they used in this project would produce much more power (I'd guess more than 3x) if they built a solar power plant, and their smart road with no solar cells in it. Land area wise, sunny deserts are bigger than roads. If the smart road minus the solar cells makes sense is another question.

Turn here? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47006733)

We've seen how easy it is for hackers to reprogram electronic highway signs. Do we really want to give them the ability to reprogram the lane markings, too?

Light pollution (2)

pmontra (738736) | about 3 months ago | (#47006781)

We don't need another source of light pollution.

Re:Light pollution (2)

Dr_Barnowl (709838) | about 3 months ago | (#47006871)

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.

Re:Light pollution (0)

pmontra (738736) | about 3 months ago | (#47006939)

And cars have lights.
I wonder what will happen when an hex fails. Would the driver assume that an obstacle is on the road hiding the hex and needlessly (and maybe dangerously) brake?
I'm not saying that this technology doesn't have any advantages over standard lightning but maybe they are too far into the curve of diminishing returns.
By the way, how difficult would be stealing a hex and bringing it at home to turn it into a fancy table? I see plenty of opportunities for vandalism. Unfortunately this isn't a nice world.

Zombies Ahead! (1)

afaiktoit (831835) | about 3 months ago | (#47006905)

how long till its hacked?

Tempered Glass? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47007023)

If the tiles are only tempered glass, there are going to be motorbikes slipping in good weather, and ice-skating in bad weather..

Read the FAQ!!! (1)

virtualXTC (609488) | about 3 months ago | (#47007339)

http://solarroadways.com/faq.s... [solarroadways.com]

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 replaced if digging benigh them is required

Wear: there won't be snow plows going across them as they will have a heating element built in, loss of transparancy is currently thought to have a maximum reduction on output of only 9%, see repair (above) for more questions about durablity. Line Display: netherlands failure: used glow

Demon Dirt will Demolish (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47007453)

Real Dirt will likely doom this thing because of the labor required to keep it sufficiently clean and to repair large numbers of them constantly being broken (dont worry greenies will invest tons of the taxpayer's money into it long after its proven to be impractical.)

Lighting the road surface sounds stupid (1)

BitZtream (692029) | about 3 months ago | (#47007463)

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.

Re:Lighting the road surface sounds stupid (1)

oodaloop (1229816) | about 3 months ago | (#47007515)

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.

Re:Lighting the road surface sounds stupid (2)

Gryle (933382) | about 3 months ago | (#47007523)

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. (3, Insightful)

Chas (5144) | about 3 months ago | (#47007513)

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."

Re:It's a pipe dream. (1)

BlueStrat (756137) | about 3 months ago | (#47007777)

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!

Strat

Poor things....!! (5, Funny)

TheRealHocusLocus (2319802) | about 3 months ago | (#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.

The usual US-centric thinking (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47007603)

So many words spent on how snow and ice are such a problem. Might be a problem in northern US, but not everyone lives there.

In a country like Australia, where snow rarely falls anywhere but on mountains, this might well be a practical and sensible idea.

No. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47007613)

There's not even enough money to fix crumbling roads and bridges that are much cheaper.

So this will be something for countries with bike lanes, highspeed trains, underground phone, electricity and glassfiber cables.

IOW, not the US:

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