Smart Roads

I saw a headline this morning about a scientist in Australia who thinks self-driving cars will be mandatory by 2030. That sounds great, but color me skeptical.

More interesting to me was the venue at which he was speaking — the Australian Asphalt and Pavement Association.

Pavement is one of overlooked elements of the autonomous revolution, and I need to learn more about it. Mostly, we just talk about pavement as a problem because the US doesn’t maintain its roads well.

However, smart pavement seems like a big opportunity. An awful lot of the logic in an autonomous vehicle is dedicated to figuring out what’s going on with the pavement. If the pavement could communicate up to the car, that would obviate the need for a lot of sensors.

Beyond that, smart pavement provides revenue opportunities (per-mile tolls, perhaps), communication (data networks could be built into the pavement), traffic monitoring, and a host of other benefits.

Tim Sylvester, a reader and contributor here, has a company called Integrated Roadways in Kansas City that works on exactly this problem. They’re working with the Missouri Department of Transportation to turn road maintenance into a revenue-generation opportunity for the state.

I kind of suspect that’s the only way we’ll get better roads — if they become revenue centers instead of cost centers.

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