The roads and vehicles of the future

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From Tesla’s talk-of-the-town Cybertruck to highways that charge electric vehicles as they drive, the world of road transport is undergoing a revolution the likes of which we haven't seen since the invention of the internal combustion engine. We take a glimpse into what the future of roads and vehicles might hold!

On-the-go charging for electric vehicles…

With the number of electric vehicles on the worlds roads estimated to hit or even exceed 125 million by 2030, the gas stations of the future will almost certainly look a little different. Eventually, they may even disappear altogether, with dedicated charging lanes available for EVs.

It’s hoped these lanes will allow drivers to charge while they're driving, without having to stop at all. The concept works through electromagnetic fields generated by electric cables buried under the road, which can then be picked up by a coil in the vehicle and converted into electricity.

…Or on-the-go battery swapping?

In the meantime, China is looking into a different approach – letting EV drivers swap out their depleted batteries for a fully charged one at conventional gas stations. China is currently the largest market for EVs in the world, and by setting industry-wide standards for EV batteries, this could provide a quick and easy way for drivers to ‘refuel’, using existing gas station infrastructure. It’s also hoped that bringing in these standards may also help lower the cost of electric vehicles and make them more widely accessible.

In the UK, several clever EV charging solutions are currently being tested or rolled out. These include:

Lamppost charging (London alone is home to over 700,000 lampposts, conveniently already connected to the national grid)

Induction pad charging (the large-scale equivalent of Wi-Fi charging pads for smartphones)

“Armadillos” - kerbside charging units made from recycled tyres

Image source: wikimedia

Are vehicles like the Tesla Cybertruck our future?

It has sparked excitement and ridicule alike, but one thing’s for sure – love it or hate it, you certainly can’t ignore it. Interest in this particular vehicle is so massive, it’s sparked dozens of “replicas” and imitations, and even inspired the design of one very sleek-looking titanium smartphone.

Beyond its… unusual looks, the Cybertruck boasts some impressive features:

Self-driving hardware and software

A solar roof option to boost range

250 mile range for the base model, 500 miles for the top of the line model

Body includes the same stainless steel alloy used by SpaceX

0 – 60 in just 2.9 seconds for the tri-motor all-wheel drive version

Production of the Cybertruck is set to begin in 2021.

Image source: wikipedia

More sustainable road design

Whether for traditional, autonomous or electric vehicles, it’s important not to forget the impact that roads themselves have on the environment. The way we build roads hasn’t changed much over the past few decades, with common practices that don’t factor in sustainability the norm. Hopefully, that is starting to change too.

Some of the approaches currently in use or being tested include:

Geotechnical solutions for improved durability:

The longer a road lasts without needing repairs or replacement, the fewer resources it takes up. When built into a road design, technologies like cellular confinement systems can dramatically increase the lifespan of a road. They also mean that fewer materials are needed in the initial construction of a road or highway, and recycled products like RAP (recycled asphalt paving) can be used in place of virgin material.

Better stormwater management practices:

‘Rain gardens’ planted alongside and between roads don’t just look a lot more attractive than plain old concrete, they perform a number of useful functions too. These include helping to absorb and retain runoff from rain, removing pollutants from the air and water as they do so. They also help reduce noise pollution, and provide a home for native insects and small animals, especially when indigenous trees and shrubs are used.

Wildlife overpass in Banff National Park, Canada

Image source: Flickr

Dedicated crossings for wildlife:

One of the most direct impacts manmade infrastructure has on an area’s wildlife is cutting off their ability to move around safely. Taking the time to design dedicated wildlife crossings into our infrastructure is an extremely cost-effective way to lessen our impact. Examples include green bridges, wildlife tunnels and viaducts, and canopy bridges for animals like squirrels and monkeys.

Taking roads… underground? 

Implementing new technologies in new roads is one thing, but in built-up cities which have reached their capacity to absorb new infrastructure, the challenge is a little bigger. One potential solution might be going the same way as city rail networks had to – underground. And while solutions like this are certainly a long way off, they display the kind of out-the-box thinking which the roads and vehicles of the future will be made from!

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