Magnetic roads: Crashes could be eliminated with cars that stick to the ground

Cars could soon be sticking to the road a lot more after the testing of magnetic roadways by car manufacturer Volvo.

The company has been using magnets embedded in test roads in the aim to be one of the first companies to introduce self-driving cars and also reduce the number of crashes.

It says it could soon be testing the magnets and futuristic roads in real-life traffic as well.

Volvo created a 100m long test track in Sweden and placed a pattern of magnets 200mm below the road’s surface. It then equipped the car with several magnetic field sensors.

Magnetic roads could bring many advantages to drivers and manufacturers. These include being able to position cars on the road in preventative safety system that could help to keep cars on the road.

Magnets could also allow roads to be smaller, with narrower lanes, as self-driving cars could be kept in position.


“Our aim is for the car to be able to handle the driving all by itself. “


Jonas Ekmark, the preventive safety leader at Volvo confirmed the company has been testing the technology.

He said: “The magnets create an invisible ‘railway’ that literally paves the way for a positioning inaccuracy of less than one decimetre. We have tested the technology at a variety of speeds and the results so far are promising.”

“Our aim is for the car to be able to handle the driving all by itself. Accurate, reliable positioning is a necessary prerequisite for a self-driving car.

“It is fully possible to implement autonomous vehicles without changes to the present infrastructure. However, this technology adds interesting possibilities, such as complementing road markings with magnets.”

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Volvo is certainly not the only company to be trying to figure out the best ways to help prevent accidents and for some years now reversing-aid cameras have available in cars.

Recently competitors Toyota filed a patent, published at the beginning of March, which surrounds ‘collision determination’.

There are very few details included in the patent but it does say that a collision determination device involves a radar detection unit which uses radar waves to detect objects around the vehicle.

This will apparently work in tandem with an image based detector and both attempt to prevent collisions.


“ A large-scale implementation of road magnets could very well be part of Sweden’s aim.”


There is still a long way to go until we see magnetic roads replace traditional existing roads, and many barriers that need to be crossed, but Sweden has been working with the car manufacturer say they could implement a large-scale use of them.

Claes Tingvall from the Swedish Transport Administration, who worked with Volvo, said the work has been promising.

He said: “The test results are very interesting, especially when adding the potential for improved safety as well the advantages for the development of self-driving vehicles.

“A large-scale implementation of road magnets could very well be part of Sweden’s aim to pioneer technology that contributes to sustainable mobility.”


Image courtesy of Volvo Cars.


Bacteria-grown bricks could be the building blocks of future cities

Traditional clay bricks could soon be a thing of the past. Biotech startup bioMASON has developed a remarkable method of growing bricks just using sand, bacteria and nutrients.

The company is currently in the process of rapidly scaling production so that companies in Europe, the US and the Middle East can start building with its bricks.

The “grown” bricks offer significant improvements over their clay cousins: they take less than a week to form in ambient temperatures, and use a material that is not only abundant but which can also be extracted from waste materials.

By contrast, clay bricks are responsible for 800 million tonnes of CO₂ thanks to their intensive firing process, which often involves using non-renewables such as coal to heat a brick-firing kiln to 2000°C (3600 Fahrenheit).

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The “grown” bricks were invented by bioMASON CEO Ginger Krieg Dosier, an architect-turned-scientist who developed the technology from the guest bedroom of her apartment in the United Arab Emirates, where she was working as an assistant professor of architecture at the American University of Sharjah.

Dosier, who taught herself chemistry, biology and materials science to undertake the project, said the development process was a long one when she spoke at TEDxWWF last year.

“It took years and many, many, many mistakes to be able to grow a strong, durable, full-scale brick,” she said. “I made mistakes and things went terribly wrong.

“For example I made a brick that would hold its shape but would dissolve underwater – not good in areas with lots of rain.”

However, her efforts have certainly been rewarded. bioMASON won the 2013 Postcode Lottery Green Challenge in 2013, which bagged the company €500,000 ($700,000) for further development, and has just completed a ten-day mini startup accelerator programme for green technologies arranged by Netherlands-based Rockstart Accelerator and DOEN foundation .

The brick development was inspired by shells and corals, which naturally use a similar process to form the biocement that makes up their structures.

This is a form of biomimicry, where scientists, engineers and inventors look to nature to find solutions to technological challenges.

The method has been used for centuries, with most notable example of biomimetic design being Velcro, which mimics the way certain seed pods attach to clothing and the coats of animals.

However, biomimetics has become particularly popular recently, and is behind many of the most exciting innovations in recent years, such as superhydrophobic surfaces, the lung-on-a-chip and 3D printed tissue.


Images courtesy of bioMASON.