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Street lighting of the Future

In October 2012, Daan Roosegaarde, the founder and lead designer of Studio Roosegaarde, an award winning design company, located in Waddinxveen, Netherlands—about 40 kilometers south east of Amsterdam— reportedly told Wired Magazine: “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. I started imagining this Route 66 of the future where technology jumps out of the computer screen and becomes part of us.”

Questions fuelled Mr. Roosegaarde’s imaginings: Why can we not develop paints that charge during the daytime and give light at night? Why don’t we have information on the road only when we need it? Why are streetlights always on after dark? Why can we not connect to small simple sensors so that the streetlights are only on when we need them to drive, lighting the path ahead in a way that also indicates how fast you can drive? Answering these questions, says Mr. Roosegaarde, is about creating new mental maps, new dreams, but also new practical proposals. Describing himself as a “hippie with a business plan,” he set about to do so.

His answers can be seen on the Studio Roosegaarde website: http://www.studioroosegaarde.net. The project ‘Smart Highway’ shows roadways at night in which the lane markers and road edge glow a “radioactive green”. The glow comes from a photo-luminescent powder integrated into the road paint, developed in conjunction with Heijmans, a European construction-services business headquartered in the Netherlands. It shows snow falling on glowing blue roads with large white snowflakes to indicate slippery conditions. Once the temperatures rise and the road conditions improve, the snowflake images disappear. It shows a highway the edges of which are lined with small pinwheels acting like motion detector lights, triggered by passing vehicles to light the way ahead. As Mr. Roosegaarde explains, these are “not super high tech ideas” but rather simple enough for implementation within the next three to five years.

Two years later, in early April 2014, one of these ideas debuted on a 500m stretch of highway — the N329 provincial road in Oss, the Netherlands, advertised as the “road to the future” by the province of North Brabant, Netherlands. Light-absorbing, glow-in-the-dark road markings have replaced the streetlights, creating, said one Netherlands news report, the impression of “driving through a fairytale.” Mr. Roosegaarde reportedly told Wired that Heijmans had managed to take its luminescence to the extreme. “It’s almost radioactive”, he said and, indeed, the embedded tweet shows three stripes of varying shades of radioactive green along both edges of the highway.

News reports also point out that while the glow lasts anywhere from eight to ten hours, it is too soon to know “how the paint holds up against wear and tear” and whether or not any degree of degradation might render it wholly dysfunctional. Despite further contracts not yet having been secured, however, Heijmans looks forward to expansion of the project.

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