Now In The Netherlands: A Smart Highway That Glows In The Dark

April 15, 2014

Europe has brought us many things: liposuction. Cursive. Velcro. The continent's latest innovation is somewhat subtler: a short stretch of glow-in-the-dark highway in the Netherlands. 

According to Ars Technica, a 500-meter length of road near the city of Oss has been painted with photoluminescent paint. That paint absorbs sunlight during the day, then emits a very bright glow at night, marking the road's outer edges and center line.

The project was dreamed up in 2012 by Daan Roosegaarde of Studio Roosegaarde. It's part of Roosegaarde's attempt to take conventional materials like asphalt and make them smart and interactive. (If you've ever tried swiping at a paper map because you're so used to iPhones and tablets, you know where he's coming from.)

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As it stands, the roadway prototype is meant to give drivers (and eventually, their autonomous cars) more tools to stay within their proper traffic lanes. If it works as intended, Roosegaarde believes that his glow-in-the-dark paint could minimize the need for expensive streetlights.

Down the proverbial road, Roosegaarde hopes to add new, smarter elements, including paint that reveals giant snowflakes when the temperature dips below freezing to alert drivers of icy conditions. He'd also like to add inductive charging lanes for electric vehicles.

There are, of course, a few obstacles blocking Roosegaarde's vision. For starters, there's the issue of cash -- or rather, a lack of it. Without more funding, Roosegaarde's dream may languish as a 500-meter novelty.

Then, there's the question of durability. How well will the luminescent paint hold up over time? How will it respond to rain, to extreme temperatures, to incessant traffic, to cracks and chips in the asphalt?

And there's also the matter of latitude to consider -- specifically, Holland's position on the map. During spring, summer, and fall, Roosegaarde's paint will likely work just fine, emitting plenty of light to get drivers through the night. During winter, however, when Dutch nights can be over 12 hours long and the sun remains fairly low in the sky, can the paint absorb enough energy to glow 'til dawn?

We don't have the answers to any of those problems, but surely the country that brought us speed and red-light cameras can figure it out, right?


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