Integrated Roadways wants to put sensors, phone, and internet connectivity, as well as other hardware, inside road surfaces. The company has been pitching the idea to governments since 2012, and it finally has two pilot projects in the works where it will lay down pavement and prove its concept, Government Technology reports. The company’s owner, Tim Sylvester, hopes the pilot projects will provide preliminary proof of some grandiose ideas.
Bob Bennett, Kansas City’s chief innovation officer, confirmed that one of the pilot projects will be in Kansas City, while the other location has yet to be announced. Sylvester expects to enter into contracts with both state agencies and begin construction of a combined 1.5 miles of pavement in the spring of 2018 with expected completion by August.
“The reason that we’ve had the circular discussion for decades now about paying for roads is that it’s always been a back and forth between taxes and tolls,” Sylvester told the news agency. “There’s never been a voice for using technology.”
Sylvester’s idea is to stuff the roads full of technology and sensors. Technology could include telecommunications, fiber-optic cable, and high-speed Internet. The sensors could gather data on vehicle counts, speeds, and weights to give cities access to information. In the future, other built-in hardware could support the communications needs of connected and self-driving vehicles, or electromagnetic coils could charge the batteries of electric vehicles as they drive the roadways.
Sylvester said he thinks all of those things are valuable enough to be sold to various buyers, which could enable Integrated Roadways to put down the roads without charging the government anything up front, which would leave more money for road maintenance.
Bennett said he is curious to see how well the sensors work, how the technology integrates with the city’s existing civic data platform, and what the maintenance needs will be, but he’s skeptical about the roads paying for themselves if they were installed today. “Until such time as a sufficient number of connected vehicles on the road, or the technology that is included in the road itself, links to the applications people already have on their phones and get monetized by corporate organizations, I think that’s probably not likely,” he told the news agency.
As for data on traffic conditions, this could be extremely valuable to government agencies. “Right now we estimate it, we can send people out to track it, and we can send people out if there’s a problem … but (it would be different) to now be able to give you a precise number and a trend analysis to figure out how we can get traffic off that road, ways to incentivize mass transit, ways to engage the public to mitigate that mass transit issue,” Bennett told the news agency. “Right now if I just say ‘It’s bad,’ everyone will shake their head. But if I can say ‘It’s bad to X degree, and we need to remove this many cars,’ now we can do some policy with that.”