Poor road conditions are the bane of drivers. In the U.S., 14 percent of the major roads and highways are in poor condition, according to national transportation research group TRIP. And driving on those cracked, pothole-riddled roads costs drivers a pretty penny: $94 billion a year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs (about $444 per motorist).
Repairing roadways is neither fast or inexpensive. So wouldn't it be great if, instead of regular asphalt, roads could be made from some compound that can automatically fix and fill in those pesky cracks and holes? Think of LG's G Flex smartphone with the "self-healing" backside, just on a much larger scale.
One Dutch civil engineer thinks he has the answer. Erik Schlangen, from Delft University in the Netherlands, has developed a stronger type of asphalt that, he says, can "heal" itself when heat is applied.
Schlangen mixed basic asphalt with strands of steel wool. He discovered that the mixture essentially heals itself of imperfections when subjected to microwave heat (when hot, the steel melts and mixes up the sticky bitumen in the asphalt, leaving a smoother surface as it cools).
Watch Schlangen's TED talk during which he demonstrates the new asphalt concoction:
But as expensive as traditional road repair can be, heating up roadways with giant microwaves doesn't sound very practical either. Schlangen, however, has developed a special vehicle that can heat up the road surface by passing induction coils over it. He says roads made of his steel wool-infused asphalt would require heating approximately every four years to fix and prevent potholes.
Dutch officials have apparently backed Schlangen's project and estimate that roads like these could save the country as much as $116.5 million annually.
Anything that keeps my wheels on level ground and saves me money at the same time sounds like a worthwhile innovation to me.