Imagine a future where your car's not just connected to the road between the tire rubber and tarmac. It's connected to the internet and not only sending a steady stream of data but also receiving signals to speed up or slow down based on the traffic. This futuristic future is already here.
The UK just revealed the details of an ambitious new transportation project that effectively connects an entire motorway to the internet. A 50-mile stretch of the busy A14 that runs between Felixstowe and Birmingham will soon be outfitted with sensors that will monitor traffic by sending signals to mobile devices in moving cars. In effect, it turns the highway into a smart road, one with greater capabilities than just monitoring traffic. Experts think that this type of technology could form the foundation of a communications system for self-driving cars.
The Brits obviously aren't the only ones thinking of tricking out the infrastructure to make driving a little smarter. Ann Arbor, Michigan is hosting a massive experiment right now involving nearly 3,000 cars that have been equipped with special wireless communication devices that enable them to communicate with each other and with devices embedded at intersections and on roadways. The idea is that a steady stream of data flowing back and forth between vehicles, the highway, and other vehicles will not only make driving safer but also more efficient.
Honestly, it doesn't take fancy technology like mobile phone-hailing road sensors to make transportation smarter. A Dutch design firm has plans for a so-called "Smart Highway" that would use next generation paint to make signs on the pavement responsive to the environment. Snowflakes would appear, for instance, if the temperature dropped below a certain threshold, or the lines would light up when it got dark. "One day I was sitting in my car in the Netherlands, and I was amazed by these roads we spend millions on but no one seems to care what they look like and how they behave," designer Daan Roosegaarde told Wired last year. "I started imagining this Route 66 of the future where technology jumps out of the computer screen and becomes part of us."
Now that sounds like a future we'd like to be a part of. Actually, on that note, any future that involves technology jumping out of screen and into reality is a future we want to be a part of. Wait, isn't there a movie about this? [The Guardian, Wired]