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Route 66, 2.0: A Gorgeous Glow-in-the-Dark Smart Highway

The Smart Highway is the Route 66 of the future, incorporating smart energy, interactive lights, and adaptable road signs.

Rotterdam-based designer Daan Roosegaarde is boldly going where few architects go: to our roads and highways. His team's proposal, "Smart Highway," conceptualizes the "Route 66 of the future," a collaboration with Heijmans Infrastructure, one of the biggest—and now most innovative—road engineering companies in Europe. The proposal, selected as "Best Future Concept" this week at the Dutch Design Awards, outlines a plan for more sustainable and interactive roads that incorporate smart energy, road signs that adapt to specific traffic situations, and interactive lights.

"It's technologically driven, but it's also an ideologically driven project," Roosegaarde explains. "In a world that is increasingly being digitized, where the technology is jumping out of the computer screen, in a world where energy has become a problem, it is natural for a young designer like me to merge these worlds and come up with proposals of what we want our future to look like.

"We spend billions on roads and they hack our landscapes incredibly," he continued. "Roads dominate the way cities look more than architecture itself, and as a trained architect it started fascinating me that designers are not involved in these things. [After this project] now I know why, because it is one of the most conservative branches out there, but the potential is of course huge."

Roosegaarde's Smart Highway is comprised of various elements, like the Glow-in-the-Dark Road, which uses social foto-luminising powder to illuminate a path's contours rendering extra street lamps and wires obsolete. The powder charges during the day and can last up to 10 hours at night. Dynamic Paint responds to various temperature fluctuations, like if the road becomes cold and slippery, ice-crystals appear. And the Induction Priority Lane gives an advantage to those with electrical cars, which Roosegaarde explains are more abundant in his part of the world, "If you buy a hummer in the Netherlands, you're a loser."

Has anything like this has ever been done before? The designer thinks not. "So far to my knowledge no, otherwise I would have hired them already," he said. "You can never claim an idea, but you can claim it's execution of course. The idea has been spread around though: we are contacted by a lot of cities that want to have this sustainable statement, and actually want to purchase it, like a boulevard of dreams, like you have in Hollywood so to speak."

Construction on the Smart Highway will begin on 200 meters of road in the Netherlands in early 2013. The execution may prove a challenge though, so Roosegaarde and his team have been experimenting with prototypes. The designer is confident in his vision. "A lot of people say to me, it's not possible," he said. "It's my job to prove them wrong."

Photos courtesy of Daan Roosegaarde

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