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China is testing high-tech roads for the electric cars of the future

April 12, 2018

A new section of smart highway will show how streets could supply data and energy to cars as they zip along it.

How it works: Bloomberg explains that solar panels are embedded beneath a tough, transparent upper surface to generate electricity in a stretch of test road in the city of Jinan, China. The section is 1,080 meters long and can generate enough electricity to power its highway lights and 800 homes.

What’s next: The top layer of the road has space for sensors that monitor things like temperature, traffic flow, and load, which in the future will allow vehicles to receive updates about, say, traffic conditions and local weather. That could help autonomous vehicles make decisions. The road should also provide wireless car charging, though the test section is too short for that to be useful.

Why it matters: China is already the world’s biggest market for electric cars, and the government has laid out a goal of having 10 percent of all cars be fully autonomous by 2030. Smart infrastructure like this will encourage adoption of these new vehicles.

But: At $1,100 per square meter of road, it’s not cheap. The price is expected to fall when the material is made at commercial volume. It will need to.

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