By Ahmed Sayed, Middle East Business Development Director for ACCIONA Transports Solutions.
If the Roman Empire excelled in anything, it was a genius for public works. Its roads were the first ever. When you travel from Italy or the south of France to Spain, for example, the highway states that on some sections you are using the old Roman route. Its legacy is alive. Roman roads could also be said to be the first smart roads in that their construction techniques applied all the technology available to them and the engineering concepts they used were incredible for their time. They considered resistance to movement on gradients and longitudinal slope, never greater than the 8% over which animal-drawn carriages could transport cargo. When necessary, the Romans levelled land to the millimeter, calculated according to the hardness of the mountain rock, and they used a collection of solid, smart materials to transport heavy items at speed. They also had accurate signage.
Everyone was aware of the importance of a road network that linked territories, trade, the economy and communications over a large part of Europe and Asia.
Engineering has changed a lot since the Romans taught the world how to build infrastructure. But one reality hasn’t changed in the intervening years: the power of roads in economic development, social connectivity, and overall quality of life. Roads convert far into near, difficult into easier, and the impossible is allowed to happen.
Our expertise in building over 5,000 kilometers of highways, motorways and roads all over the world in the recent years, shows a veritable Mappa Mundi of smart roads, increasingly innovative and sustainable, thanks to the advances in the technological revolution. It also carries out maintenance on a multitude of roads, including cleaning and clearing of scrub, drainage networks, culverts, underdrains and signage works.
Smart roads have some common characteristics, such as:
1. Circular economy for roads: Construction and maintenance of smart new roads is based on innovation and sustainability such as the use of recycled materials in road construction can help to reduce the demand for raw resources and minimize waste.
2. Topographic roads: The use of drones is essential in road construction today. ACCIONA uses this technology to generate 3D models of the land, monitor works and inspect the project and infrastructure aerially.
3. Sensor-equipped highways: Smart roads will be able to gather and feedback increasing amounts of data about themselves and vehicles in order to optimize maintenance of the surface, and manage the road and its traffic more efficiently, as well as improving safety for drivers.
SMART ROADS: COCKTAIL OF TECHNOLOGIES
Today these highways and roads emerge on the screen of engineers in our centers for technological innovation with the help of sophisticated software. Later, they are made real in the remotest of places thanks to the new applications of topography, 3D and 4D modeling, sensor systems, remotely operated machinery, drones, laser scanning and smart and sustainable materials. One example is composite materials, made up of resins and fibers so that combining them allows the creation of a new material whose properties are much greater than those each element can provide separately. Some of its benefits are lightness, corrosion resistance, high mechanical resistance and electromagnetic transparency.
All sustainable materials are capable of self-repair and which warn about where they are deteriorating. Solutions that pursue the application of the concept of circular economy and digitize processes to reduce construction delays and increase the reliability and safety of construction projects.
Another of the most important tasks for our engineers is driver safety. Thanks to advances in innovation and sustainability, our road projects not only reduce CO2 emissions but also reduces the number of accidents on the roads.
Overall, road construction can have a wide range of impacts, and it is important to consider these impacts during the planning and design phase in order to minimize the damage and strive for sustainable construction. It is important to prioritize environmental studies in the development of road projects so that a minimum of impact is generated on the surroundings and transport emissions can be reduced. Examples are designing routes that harmonize the speed of vehicles, avoiding driving in low gears and hard braking, toll points without barriers and using wireless communications so that cars don’t have to stop and queue, a big cause of pollution.
Additionally, the stages of damage prevention and conservation in the places in which we work include the tasks of rehabilitating surrounding landscapes through the planting of trees and shrubs, the creation of new landscapes to reduce environmental impact and respect for vegetation, animal life and cultural heritage in the vicinities.
In other words, technology and innovation are essential in building and maintaining smart, sustainable roads, which can: cut CO2 emissions, reduce traffic, increase safety and improve communications and the economy. And the latest technology used to achieve these fantastic roads are:
– Drones: perform mapping, inspections and maintenance from the air.
– 3D Printing: in situ printing of various construction elements.
– Remotely-operated machinery: improving safety and accuracy of work.
– Solar roads: supplying electricity to the main grid and charge car batteries.
– Sensor-equipped Highways: in order to alert, in real time, about the state of the road and which are charged by the pressure of passing cars to optimize maintenance of the surface and manage traffic more efficiently.
– Self-healing asphalt: self-repair independently of external agents and at ambient temperature that can extend the lifespan of the road and reduce the need for frequent maintenance and repairs.
– Luminescent cement and paint: light the road at night-time without the need for an electrical supply.
– Recycled plastic asphalt: sustainable, cheap, and durable.
– Self-driving heavy construction vehicles.
– Wireless toll stations without barriers: cutting CO2 emissions by avoiding the stopping of cars.
– Sensors for structures and corrosion: monitoring the state of infrastructure and anticipate faults.
– Planting of trees and shrubs to restore environmental balance in the area.
I could say with no doubt that smart roads have emerged due to the urgent need to respond to challenges such as climate change and overpopulation. Such infrastructure is the product of a new era in which people and the planet are the priority.