Glow-in-the-Dark Smart-Roads: Netherlands 2013, U.S. & India Next?

BA is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.

Autos have been smarting up for awhile -- and the driverless vehicle race, led by Google (NASDAQ: GOOG), is accelerating that smarting up. Roads, however, have largely been left in the tech dust. This discrepancy came to designer Daan Roosegaarde’s mind while driving, and, as he told Wired, "I started imagining this Route 66 of the future where technology jumps out of the computer screen and becomes part of us."

The Smart Highway

The result of Roosegaarde’s imagining is “The Smart Highway,” a collaboration between his firm, Studio Roosegaarde, and infrastructure contractor Heijmans. The concept won Best Future Concept at the 2012 Dutch Design Awards.

The Smart Highway's main benefits:

1. Improve road safety -- lessening human misery and economic costs.

2. Save energy & money on lighting

Concepts smoncepts, you may say (I often do). This project, however, has already jumped off the drawing board. An advanced photo-luminising powder for road markings has been developed and several concepts will be implemented in the Netherlands province of Brabant in mid-2013.

In Immediate View  

The Brabant project, which involves several hundred meters of roadway, will implement two concepts:

1.) Glow-in-the-dark road markings

Not only do these markings glow in the dark, they also increase illumination. The photo-luminising powder in the paint charges when exposed to sunlight and provides up to 10 hours of luminescence. Thus, it's a "green" way to supplement conventional lighting. (If you're wondering, what if it snows? It appears the result would be just the same as it is now -- road markings covered until plowed, so there is no additional downside. Further, it seems likely the markings will be more visible than conventional markings in a light snow situation.)  

Fasten your seatbelt! You're on a smart road with glow-in-the-dark markings...

Source: Studio Roosegaarde 

2.) Dynamic Paint 

This feature is being termed "weather-indicating roads" in some articles. "Dynamic paint" is a better -- and more umbrella -- term. Dynamic paint becomes visible in response to road surface conditions. For instance, the concept shown below involves images of ice crystals appearing when the road temperatures are cold enough for ice to form.

 Source: Studio Roosegaarde

Additionally, dynamic paint could be used to change lines from dotted to solid (do not cross) for safety reasons:

 Source: Studio Roosegaarde

In Medium Term Horizon

The Smart Highway components planned to be implemented within five years are:

1.) Priority induction lanes for electric vehicles

These lanes act as a charging pad for EVs. It's speculated that this will involve induction coils buried in the road, though specifics on the technology haven't been released. Given how fast technology changes, it's good to keep an open mind about specifics on medium-term concepts. This concept seems like it could meld nicely will driverless vehicles.

Here's a pic of Life in the...Electric....Lane:

 Source: Studio Roosegaarde

2. Interactive lights

Source: Studio Roosegaarde

3.  Wind-powered lights

This concept would involve harvesting the wind generated by passing vehicles to power lighting. Again, potentially a big money saver if it functions decently.

Taking 'The Smart Highway' on the road

Roosegaarde has reportedly received inquiries of all types and from all over the world. 

He was quoted in Wired as saying, “India is really keen on it; they have a lot of blackouts there, it would be hallelujah to them." He's also expressed a desire to bring the concepts to the U.S.

Possible Investment Implications

It's much too early to identify investment implications, but if one or more of these concepts takes off, there will be winners and losers. My ponderings follow.

Heijmans, the Dutch contractor involved in this project, is a public company -- it doesn't trade on any U.S. exchanges, but on several German ones. The stock has been performing poorly, not a surprise given the European economic climate. 

Possible Winners

1. Specialty Paint Manufacturer

Roosegaarde has said the project involved a paint manufacturer developing a photo-luminising powder. There are already such powders/paints on the market; apparently this one is more advanced or at least better suited for the application.

Which paint company? Is the product patentable? This info doesn't seem to be public. I'd doubt the specialty paint is patentable. I've emailed Roosegaarde's firm with these questions. I'd guess this info is private, but will certainly keep readers updated.

3M (NYSE: MMM) has a road safety division which sells reflective road paints and other such products. If the specially-developed paint performs well, perhaps a major conglomerate like 3M would be interested in it.

2. Road Contractors & Road Equipment Manufacturers

If the advanced glow-in-dark paint and the dynamic paint concepts take off, manufacturers of road equipment could benefit.

3. Driverless Vehicles

The Smart Highway seems complimentary to driverless vehicles, rather than a competing project. For instance, it seems that sensors in driverless vehicles could be made to better detect specialty road markings. And it seems that driverless EVs could travel along priority induction lanes almost as if they were a track.

It seems likely Google could become involved in the Smart Highway project.

Possible Losers

EV Charger Manufacturers 

Companies involved in manufacturing (and installing) EV chargers won't like the priority induction lane concept as it would cut into their businesses. A big player here is AeroVironment (NASDAQ: AVAV).

This concept, unlike the first two, would initially save money only for a segment of the population (those with EVs). Some will view it as unfair or a cost shifter. Thus, I see it having opposition in the U.S.

Besides, it seems like it would be much more costly than implementing the first two concepts (luminescent paint markings and dynamic paint). Thus, I don't believe AeroVironment and other manufacturers need to be concerned (at least for awhile) about this potential threat. Besides, AeroVironment is diversified -- it also makes defense products. 

Street Lighting Manufacturers

Even if the concepts perform well, they seem a considerable way off to cutting into street light manufacturers' (and installers') businesses. That said, the major companies in this business include General Electric (NYSE: GE), Philips (NYSE: PHG) and Siemens. All are large, diversified conglomerates, so not dependent on any one line of business. Philips, coincidentally, is based in the Smart Highway's country of origin -- the Netherlands.

I view solar lighting as a more immediate and more direct competitor to conventional street lighting.

Closing

Roosegaarde acknowledges that technology for a few of the concepts has long been available. The issue has been implementation. Rather than waiting for governments to move, the two firms involved decided to take Nike's advice -- and "Just Do It."

I hope the concepts perform well. Several of them seem to offer a lot of bang for the buck. I see them taking off in some European countries, before the U.S. -- unless, of course, a company like Google gets involved.  

Lights out for now on this topic, but I'll be following the progress of this project. 


BAMcKenna has no positions in the stocks mentioned above. The Motley Fool owns shares of General Electric Company and Google. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend AeroVironment, Google, and 3M Company. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. Is this post wrong? Click here. Think you can do better? Join us and write your own!

blog comments powered by Disqus

Compare Brokers

Fool Disclosure