Solar FREAKIN’ Roadways.
Roads, that are solar panels. They are photo-voltaic panels that turn your morning commute into the closest you’ll ever get to a Tron Light-Cycle Race.
“That’s just a pic with Photoshop editing. Stop wasting my time with artists renditions” you say. Maybe you’re an important business man with a place to be. Or just an insufferable dick.
That’s the couple who have taken their idea and put it into practice. With funding from the Federal Highway Administration they completed prototyping with a Phase 1 grant.
“But Dave, that’s just a prototype!” you exclaim. “We can’t really have this in our daily lives. It’s pipe dream. The glass would break. It would be like driving on a computer screen.”
Think about it. You can get bullet proof glass. Glass has a very high hardness, and with the prospects of upcoming biomimetic oyster shell glass, a tough, transparent material is actually easy to source. Further, the glass can be produced with high traction hexagon prisms that actually perform better than asphalt.
“Ahah!” You think you have me. “Rain! Snow! An electronic surface exposed to the elements is bound to fry itself.”
The modules are locked up tight like a plane’s black box, no water gets in. Even better, just like on the back windshield of your car, heating elements in the glass melt off the snow which runs between the modules and into the cable channels on the side. Cable channels that can be easily accessed to put power cables in, removing those ugly iron trees from sprouting wires all around our homes. The channels could also be used to filter and better control surface run off, preventing water pollution and urban flooding (a serious problem down here in South Wales).
Upgrades and maintenance would be a breeze for telephones, internet cables and even gas and electrical utilities. No more ‘Roadworks’ signs spelling doom for your commute home. Same goes for the panels themselves. Their modular design means road crews can turn up at a broken panel with a new one in the truck. Pull the old one, plug the new one, and drive off. Ten minutes tops.
“…But they need power for the heating elements?”
They’re freakin’ solar panels. They make their own power. Next question.
“Their modular though? What if some enterprising thief steals them?”
Again like a planes back box and your’s truly, these hexagons are tough AND smart. They communicate between themselves with the on-board microprocessors. If one goes walkabout, the others notice and call home.
Road: “My mates gone! Some idgits gone stole ‘im!”
Central Road Authority: “Don’t worry, we’ll just go get him”
The panels have on board tracking and GPS. Crooks will soon realise it’s not a ‘smart’ idea.
Not quite convinced?
Ok. Go find a complaint. I’ll make some tea.
“What about human behaviour? Would they be distracting to drive on? Maybe kids would get the wrong idea and play with them. And … animals? …”
Scraping the barrel now aren’t we? The roads are smart. They can be programmed to display road lines, then instantly change to display advice to slow down, or warn of an oncoming obstruction. The panels would be doubly perfect for rural areas with no street lighting. And animals? The panels can be made with sensors to detect deer crossing and highlight the dangers to drivers further down the road.
As for kids playing with them, that’s *almost* the best part. In addition to the opportunities for interactive safety features demonstrated in this video, parking lots paved with this surface could be turned instantaneously into a basket ball court, a football pitch, whatever someone really wanted to!
I’m kinda exhausted from telling you what a brilliant thing this is. So I’m going to take a break before the last paragraph. If you still need convincing, check this video out.
I could keep going about this. The use of recycled materials, the opportunity for ‘as-you-drive’ induction transmission for electric vehicles, the possibility of how it might tie into the Third Industrial Revolution of smart grids and de-centralised power generation. Instead I’m going to leave it to you.
Scott and his small team have the design, the experience, the skills and the interest from public and private markets to move on with the project. What they need now though is help. Scott and Julie want to hire engineers for the very final stages of development. The money moves this from very real prototype to even more real product. Just in the space of finding their campaign and me hitting the ‘publish’ button, they have moved from 75% of their goal to 80%.
They have 7 more days to hit the full million.
I’m just gonna put my money down on their Indiegogo campaign, and dream of the day I can cruise down a smog-free Crwys Road in my sweet Solar Freakin’ Roadways hat, my clean electric ride literally lighting up the street. Scott has given great talks at TEDx and Google and answers even more questions on design, efficiency and funding on the Solar Roadways Website which you should really check out. He’s actually an electrical engineer who worked in the Marines, so I’ve also left the numbers to him.
Here’s to futures paved with good ideas and good intentions.
UPDATE: 6:11pm 25 May 2014
I wrote the above last night, and published this morning. This evening (UK) Solar Roadways has completed funding its $1 mill seed capital.
More details can be found here. Well done guys.