Construction Technologies That Will Change How Roads Are Built

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Posted on 15th September 2018 – Car Technology

When we think about the technologies that have changed how we drive, often come to mind electric cars and autonomous vehicles. There are, however, very exciting innovations in architecture, engineering and construction that will revolutionise how we get from A to B. Here are some highlights.

Sustainable asphalt

As far back as the 1960s, the construction industry was adding rubber from recycled car tyres to the asphalt mixture to improve its quality, decrease material costs and reduce landfill waste. Nowadays, with more types of plastics being recyclable, bottles and other single-use plastics can be used. Rotterdam in the Netherlands is even working on a project to build a bike path out of recycled LEGO-like plastic blocks snapping together.

In Melbourne, researchers at RMIT University have found that mixing cigarette butts to the asphalt mix improves roadway quality while containing heavy metals safely while, in Sydney, printer toner is the secret ingredient!

3D-printed concrete bridges

3D printing isn’t only for plastic. In 2017 two concrete bridges were built using this method, a pedestrian bridge in Madrid and a bridge for bicycles in the Netherlands.

This is also a more environmentally friendly solution as structures manufactured this way use less cement, therefore lowering their carbon footprint, and they don’t require any form work, reducing waste. From an architectural point of view, it also allows all sorts of intricate designs that wouldn’t have been possible before.

Construction-site robots

Machine-controlled equipment isn’t new in factories but extending it to construction sites is recent. Several applications have been deployed such as bricklaying robots that work alongside human masons, increasing productivity and reducing physical strain on workers. A fleet of trucks and dump trucks are being used by Australian company Rio Tinto for mining, including a 320-ton self-driving “mega machine”. The most amazing of it all? They are controlled from the company’s headquarters, in Perth, some 1,500kms away from the site!

It is easy to see how these machines could revolutionise the world of road construction as they could be used to access dangerous terrains after earthquakes or other natural disasters for example as they can be operated remotely before it is safe for their human ‘colleagues’ to go on site.


Virtual Reality (VR) in pre-construction

No, Virtual Reality isn’t just for nerds!

Before a structure or a car is built, come many stages of design, prototypes and other physical representations. This costs money and adds delay which, themselves, represent an expense.

In 2017, an American construction company called Layton Construction saved a quarter of a million US dollars by using VR to create 20 mock-ups to conduct user tests of operating theatres and other medical facilities for a 280-bed medical centre in Alabama. This technique worked so well that Layton has since been using it extensively on even larger projects, offering all singing and dancing simulations (with sound cues, tactile feedback, and Augmented Reality included) to their clients.


Augmented Reality (AR)

Do you remember Google Glass? Never heard of it? Well, you’re not the only one as it never caught on in the retail area.

Google’s Smartglasses were met with tepid interest by the public and soon abandoned but their fortune was revived thanks to manufacturers for whom they proved indispensable, and it is likely that they could play an important role in the building industry too, especially in the planning stages.

AirMeasure for example, an iOS app, has 15 built-in modes to capture accurate measurements with nothing more than a phone. The DAQRI Smart Helmet is another exciting product which offers immersive 3D modelling and it is easy to see how it could be used in a range of businesses from architecture to landscaping, engineering and even interior design, not only at the design stage but also to show clients what a finished project will look like.

Self-healing concrete

Concrete is the most used material in construction but it needs to be repaired when it is damaged by land movement, the weather or temperature changes. How about if it could fix itself? It may sound far-fetched but the Romans had it! Current research at Rutgers University in the US is betting on a limestone-producing fungus called Trichoderma reesei which, added to concrete mixture, will fill fine cracks as they form.

Solar and Smart roads

Created in 2014, Solar Roadways, a business and a product, invented a modular system of solar panels that can be walked and driven on. Containing LED lights, signage could be programmed and changed at will without paint, eliminating the huge costs and the road closures normally associated with this kind of roadworks. They are also equipped with heating elements to prevent accumulation of snow and ice and make wet roads dry faster.

In addition to programmable LEDs, the panels also have microprocessors which allow them to communicate with one another and connected vehicles so they could be an essential part of making autonomous vehicles a reality.

In their early days, Solar Roadways products were met with a lot of criticism but, in 2017, the Missouri Department of Transportation commissioned a pilot project and was granted US$750,000 by the Federal Highway Administration for development and testing so it doesn’t sound like such a crazy idea any more.

Over in Europe, a Dutch company tested a similar system for a solar bike path in Amsterdam while, in France, a project to build a 1,000km solar road that will generate enough power for a town of 5,000 inhabitants is underway and expected to be finished within the next five years.

Other fascinating projects for Smart roads around the world include energy-reducing, glow-in-the-dark roadways and induction lanes with embedded magnetic fields that can charge electric cars. This, along with the real possibility that we will see our first flying cars in the near future makes it a very exciting time!

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