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One of the most interesting presentations at MOVE America 2020 was by a non-profit organization called The Ray, a living laboratory for transportation on a public highway.

The Ray is actually a rural highway in Georgia at the intersection of technology, sustainably, philanthropy and research. During MOVE America, Auto Futures talked with Allie Kelly, The Ray’s Chief Executive Officer.

The eighteen-mile (30 km) highway and the foundation that funds the project are named after Ray C. Anderson who revolutionised carpeting and manufacturing at Interface Inc.

“Ray proved that we can change the world by proving the business case for sustainability. Ray proved that you can do well by doing good,” says Kelly.

Anderson believed in corporate sustainability. The company he founded created the first carpet tiles from recycled material that is carbon sequestered.

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Where the Rubber and Tire Becomes the Road to Sustainability

“It’s time to reboot the road technology to enable us to hit the reset button on the road itself,” says Kelly, “We can start by paving our roads not only in a way that cleans up the environment but makes a safer driving surface by paving our roads with scrap tyres.”

Scrap tyres can be the cause of life-threatening fires and provide the habitat for mosquitoes that spread disease.

Repaving just thirteen miles (20 km) of an interstate with rubberised asphalt uses over 50,000 scrap tyres and increases the life of the road. Rubber roads are resilient roads they crack less and are more resilient to extreme weather. Rubber roads are easier to maintain. They don’t flood, because the water flows through the road.

There is less hydroplaning. Because rubber is quieter, there is no need for noise barriers between the highway and surrounding communities. The rubber roads on the Ray also enable darker background for the striping to be more visible, says Kelly.

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The Ray Shines the Light on Solar Roads and Solar Power

The Ray generates clean renewable energy. It is the first solar road in the U.S. with Wattway. The Ray first installed the solar road and paved it in 2016 using Wattway technology. The company returned in 2019 and installed the most recent version of their solar road panels.

The surface of the solar road is not glossy or slippery. It is an overlay installed on the existing roadway. Highways do not have to be repaved. An industrial adhesive is applied to install the panels on existing roads.

“The surface of the solar road panels is treated with recycled glass resin that has more skid resistance than new asphalt or new concrete. It looks like a solar panel with an abrasive and rough surface,” says Kelly, “Now we’re now helping them (Wattway) to install another solar road in the city called Peachtree corners which has an open and public autonomous vehicle test track.”

She says Peachtree Corners will provide clean solar power for an EV charging station.

Twelve traditional solar panels provide power for an extremely fast-charging station at an interstate rest area on the Ray with power up to 175 Kilowatts.

Near Exit 14 for the city of LaGrange, there are four acres of solar panels ground-mounted. The solar panels along the road are designed not to produce glare towards drivers and help generate income for Georgia Power Company.

“Kia was instrumental in supporting the first project which was solar panels and the EV charging station as well as a tire safety check station,” says Kelly.

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Flower Power and Wild Grass for Pollinators

The Ray planted indigenous grass, natural meadows and wildflowers along the highway to be habitats for pollinators. Pollinators are needed for nuts, fruit and berry farming. Pollinators such as bats eat mosquitoes. The natural plants replaced turfgrass.

Turfgrass has to be mowed every six to eight weeks. The state of Georgia spends $35 Million a year maintaining the turfgrass. The wildflowers and natural grass a have deeper roots that prevent runoff and flooding. The plants also are more tolerant of extreme weather conditions.

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Smart Roads on the Horizon

An important project of the Ray is smart road technology with partner Panasonic. Panasonic’s CIRRUS V2X (vehicle-to-everything) platform will enable Georgia DOT to use real-time, location-specific data. Vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communication with both cellular and DSRC roadside units (RSU) collect data from vehicles.

Traction, windshield wipers, airbag deployment, braking, hazard lights and other car codes are transmitted from the vehicles. The system determines what the codes mean and then can communicate to cars approaching that there’s a patch of ice or an object in the road as well as congested areas or accidents.

“Due to Covid-19 we’ve had to postpone working with Panasonic,” says Kelly, “The next step is to verify and test the roadside units as well as communicating back to the vehicles.”

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Smart Striping Showing the Way to Autonomous Transport

“A safety feature and a way to be ready for autonomous transport is 3M’s Connected Roads All Weather Elements striping technology on the Ray,” says Kelly. The striping offers higher contrast between the pavement and the road lines. The striping is more visible to humans and autonomous vehicle cameras. It’s also working with 3M on smart signage.

“We are looking at things like platooning, VTOL and autonomous trucking such as TuSimple and Waymo.”

The Ray helps departments of transportation all over the country who are risk-averse to see what can be done. Kelly says the naysayers can’t say no to smart roads and new sustainable transportation features because: “We have proven it can be done.”

For more on MOVE America, click on the link.

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