Roads? Where We're Going We Won't Need Roads…

by Jonathan Kolber

According to LiveScience, scientists at the University of Michigan have discovered that by mixing fiber into concrete, a new kind of material is created. It’s lightweight, resists cracking and lasts longer. It’s also flexible – a term not commonly associated with concrete. That’s why some are calling it “paradoxical” concrete.

The revolutionary material has already been deployed in countries like Japan, Korea, Switzerland and Australia. It’s about to find use in America as well.

Unlike conventional fiber-reinforced concrete, this is 500 times more resistant to cracking than typical sidewalk material. It’s also about half the weight.

Like regular concrete, this includes cement water and sand. It replaces the coarse gravel commonly included with special fibers that slide under pressure. It’s this feature that gives the concrete its flexibility.

Shortly, the Michigan Department of Transportation will use paradoxical concrete to replace part of a bridge that crosses Interstate 94. It will eliminate the need for specialized steel teeth that would otherwise provide critical support and flexibility. If it works as expected, Michigan intends to use the new concrete more widely, and other states will follow.

Lab studies suggest that the material should last about twice as long as conventional concrete, which would reduce total cost of road construction by nearly 40%.

I would expect the new concrete to find its greatest acceptance in roadways traversed by exceptionally heavy vehicles, such as 18-wheelers. Studies have shown that such massive and heavily loaded trucks wear out roadways far faster than other types of vehicles.

Assuming that further studies confirm a huge savings in such extreme stress applications, we can look for this new material to win rapid acceptance as the highway construction material of choice. Further, it might make massive highway replacement projects far more cost effective.

On the other hand, highways and roadways in general are a primitive technology approaching the end of their useful life. Why drive when you can fly?

I saw a prototype of the Moller Skycar at the NextFest in Chicago last month. This vehicle – about the size of a recreational vehicle – can do vertical takeoff and landing, fly at over 300 mph and gets about 24 miles per gallon on standard gasoline.

Eight computer-controlled turbofans fly the vehicle, of which only three are needed for a safe landing in the event of engine failure. It could even be flown on a completely automated basis when linked up to a global positioning satellite system (GPS).

Imagine getting into your Skycar one day and saying, “Car, take me to Chicago.” It replies, “You want to go to Chicago. Do you prefer the fastest route or the scenic route?” You answer, and away you go. That’s my idea of travel.

Apart from flying cars, we now have the capability to build magnetic levitation trains (aka “flying trains”) that travel hundreds of miles per hour, offering efficient and fast mass transit between cities. Indeed, such trains are already in use in France and Japan. (For example, see Tres Grande Vitesse).

Further, new types of safe rocket ships will soon enable suborbital travel between continents at hypersonic speeds. A prototype for these is the award-winning SpaceShipOne, the engines for which are manufactured by Transformational Technologies Portfolio company SpaceDev.

Within 10 years, I expect we’ll be having conferences at all kinds of exotic locations around the globe and making the journey in just a couple of hours from major airports (some of which will begin to evolve into spaceports). Some people will even work on one continent and live on another, making the commute several times per week, or even daily.