The future of Indian roads is changing in unimaginable ways thanks to technology.
by Sarat Madala (Associate Director: One of the Big 4s), NRI Herald Australia 01 August 2022
Having a length of over 6.2 million kilometers, India has the second largest road network in the world. In India, national highways account for over 2% of the road network and carry more than 40% of the traffic on the roads.
"Every day, 37 kilometers of highways are constructed in India. In order to invest one and a half trillion dollars in the infrastructure sector by the year 2025, the Government of India is giving a massive push"
Road construction technology is evolving significantly, and if the developers of these roads are not willing to embrace this technology, these roads will be constructed at a significantly higher cost. In this context, it is necessary for road developers to consider the emerging technologies being used around the world in order to devise a strategy for building roads in an efficient and cost-effective manner.
Let's take a look at some of the mind-blowing road technologies that you may never have considered, such as building roads across deserts and water bodies, or repairing potholes with drones.
1) Power Paver:
Asphalt pavers are self-propelled formless laydown machines equipped with floating screeds. The hot mix asphalt is loaded in the front, carried in the rear by a set of flight feeders, spread out by an auger, and compacted by a screed. Asphalt is laid on roads, bridges, parking lots, and other areas by modern paver machines. Asphalt is laid flat and minor compaction is provided before it is compacted by a roller. For crawler pavers, the minimum speed shall range from 0 to 15 m/min and for wheeled pavers, the minimum speed shall range from 0 to 30 m/min.
On brick roads, we use electric pavers which slowly crawl along the road and leave behind a perfectly assembled trail of bricks. On the moving plate, workers place the brakes into the desired pattern from the holding hoppers on top. In turn, this plate feeds interlocking bands of bricks downward at a speed that can be easily maintained by workers.
The pattern is gently laid on the road surfaces by the machine as it rolls forward, with the assistance of gravity. As opposed to traditional practices, which require workers to place each brick onto the road by hand, this approach saves both time and effort and reduces back pain. The stone printers have a bit of a 20-foot width, and they can lay approximately 3000 square feet of paving per day when manned by just two people. They can be easily adjusted to print-pave smaller roads if you are left with a smaller right-of-way, which is usually the case in congested areas.
2) Bridge Road Zipper:
Travelers may find a rush hour to be the ultimate dampener on the road. On average, people in many Indian metropolises get stuck on the roads for five days every year. In fact, there is even a machine that can help you overcome traffic congestion on the roads although it is not the type of innovation that we are used to thinking of.
Road Zippers or Bridge Barrier Transfer Machines are designed to move the concrete or steel road dividers (Jersey barriers) that separate the two directions of traffic. Before rush hour begins, this machine assists in shifting the barriers in a direction that allows drivers to have an extra lane in the busier direction.
Under the vehicle's undercarriage is an inverted conveyor channel which is basically a high-powered roller system that lifts the barrier segments and transfers them to a new location. As a point of comparison, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco is approximately 1.7 miles long and contains approximately 3200 jersey dividers. Each divider weighs approximately 1500 pounds (*680 kilograms).
In order to decongest that bridge, heavy-duty zippers are used to increase or decrease the width of the lanes. In Indian metropolises where the volume of traffic in one lane is high and low in the other lane during peak hours, this could be considered for implementation.
3) Wireless Electric Roads:
Currently, almost 20 cities across 14 countries have proposed banning vehicles powered by fossil fuels in the future. There are several countries preparing to get from A to B without putting their foot on the pedal, including France, Norway, the United Kingdom, and even China. By building electric roads and electric vehicles, this can be achieved.
The company Electron specializes in the preparation of wireless electrical roads. The Israeli company has already used this technology in projects in Tel Aviv and Sweden in order to power electric vehicles wirelessly while they are in motion. Using this technology, a network of copper coils is integrated into the existing asphalt roads, connected to the power grid, and synchronized with the vehicle hardware. From start to finish, the installation of one mile of this coil can be accomplished in just a few days, according to this company.
A receiver under the chassis of the electric vehicle will be connected to Electron's dynamic wireless power transfer system, allowing the vehicle to harness the power wirelessly while on the road. This eliminates the need for bulky batteries, and by providing only car rides on these types of roads, the cars can be powered indefinitely. In the future, this could be a viable solution when combined with a rechargeable battery for traveling off the grid.
4) Trencher Disc:
It is necessary to excavate and bury a great deal of material when upgrading a road and for that, a machine that is capable of punching through asphalt is necessary. A Next-trencher trencher disc is a high-powered tool capable of cutting through and removing urban materials such as asphalt and concrete to a depth of almost three feet.
In trenching projects, excavation disks are usually exposed. In the case of urban roads, however, we do not want stones and debris to fall on moving vehicles. Therefore, this machine closes the entire top of the disk, resulting in no disruptions to traffic and allowing workers to work alongside moving vehicles in a safe manner.
A conveyor belt or chain transports the debris to an extractor, which deposits the fragments along the side of the road. A disk trencher cuts approximately 330 feet/100 meters per hour as a result of its efficient design. Using this technology, the roads in urban areas could be excavated for the purpose of laying the cables for the Fiber Grid project as well as for laying the utilities.
5) Self repairing cities initiatives:
There are some potentially incredible advantages that can be derived from the use of drones that we are not generally aware of, for example, the possibility of repairing potholes on the road. Researchers from the University of Leeds have proposed using drones equipped with 3D printing capabilities to fill in potholes. While this is still in the conceptual phase, it may provide an answer to the need for on-demand pothole filling.
The drones are theoretically capable of scanning potholes on the roads and locating their orientation. A smooth finish can be achieved using an attached extruder machine.
This technology could prove to be a game changer for countries such as India, where there are only three to four superintending engineers per division, which limits the capacity to patrol the roads and monitor their condition.
6) Roller Barriers:
It is true that traffic barriers and jersey barriers provide a sense of security, however, when a vehicle collides with them by accident, they exacerbate the driver's injuries. This risk has provided an opportunity for the development of roller barriers. A company named ETI has developed these roller barriers in South Korea.
There is much more to this design than simply preventing vehicles from driving off the road. The rollers are capable of converting impact energy into rotational energy. As a result, the vehicle is prevented from breaking through the barrier and is redirected back onto the road. Ethylene Vinyl Acetate, or EVA, is the material used to construct the rollers. Since they are made from rubber-like material and are lightweight, heavy vehicles such as trucks and buses cannot easily damage them.
All aspects of the design of the roller barriers facilitate the propulsion of vehicles forward, which is what the traditional crash barriers do, but not so effectively.
In order to build roads from scratch, it may be necessary to do much more than just dump a bunch of asphalt on the ground. Depending on the terrain, you may need to take soil erosion into account, and apply the necessary methods to prevent the hard-built road from crumbling. It is for this reason that some construction companies use geocells. Geosynthetic materials are sturdy enough to withstand an impact of up to 8000 kilograms per square meter.
No matter what type of soil is involved in the project, the cellular design and base component can be changed according to the application. Additionally, they could be used to stabilize the foundations of sand beds in desert areas. Developing a road network across the vast expanses of the Thar desert in Rajasthan could be considered by the Indian government as a means to promote desert tourism in that region.
8) Pothole patchers:
Potholes can turn a perfectly normal road into an infuriating obstacle course for all road users. In 2011, the UK automobile association joked about how sick they were of their nation's numerous potholes. In order to combat this scourge of the roads, pothole patchers have been developed. Unlike conventional pothole repair, which involves a lot of manual labor, a pothole patcher is capable of filling and repairing potholes while the operator sits comfortably in the machine's cabin.
An exhaust circulation system is used to maintain the temperature of hot asphalt in the hoppers behind the cabin, as well as to warm up cold asphalt to a working temperature of 150 degrees Celsius. The mix is then fed through an extendable working arm in front of the cabin, and the nozzle of the arm is used to spray the product. Afterward, the asphalt is leveled with a rake attached to the arm, then compacted into the hole with the arm's roller. Generally, these are three times faster than filling up potholes by a three-person crew. For this purpose, we must submit to our robotic overlords who are in charge of repairing potholes in order to win the war on potholes.
9) Power Curbers for highway barriers:
By using a technique called slipform, long unbroken lines of concrete barriers are constructed on-site in the middle of the roads. Cement concrete is poured and molded by a continuously moving machine. When you combine that method with some additional mechanical ingenuity, you get the Power Curber 7700.
The machine is equipped with a telescopic frame that allows it to straddle two metal grids in a triangular shape. A conveyor belt feeds cement concrete into the forming house, where it is mechanically applied to the triangular metal frame. As the machine slowly moves along, cement concrete passes down onto the frame and is smoothed, resulting in a seamless highway barrier wall.
With the conveyor tracks and straddle device, this can weigh up to 36 metric tons, but it is still very helpful in completing these barriers in a shorter amount of time.
Many companies, such as Gomaco, have huge slipforms that can provide different types of paving depending on the project but can also be customized to fit even the most challenging requirements.
The above image shows the Gomaco GP3 slipform paver, which can pave floors up to nine meters wide. In this process, a measured supply of concrete is poured over the paver, which is then shaped, spread, and consolidated at a specific height. The GP 2600, which was used in the construction of Turkey's Batman canal system, can also be customized. The slip former was designed with a sectional trapezoidal mold that could be adjusted for different slopes and depths.
Workers can also apply a trowel finish to the molded cement concrete by hand using work bridges installed behind the pavers. Overall production topped out at 600 meters per day, which is almost equal to the length of many Indian River bridges, despite the complexity. In order to determine the effectiveness of this technology in the Indian context, the Water Resources Departments across the states, as well as the Roads and Bridges Departments must take this technology into consideration and pilot it in select stretches.
It may not have occurred to you, but roads are one of the most complex infrastructure projects that mankind has ever undertaken. As surprising as the methods used to build those projects are, they are also mesmerizing at the same time.
With the sheer volume of roads to be constructed in this country over the next few years, all of these technologies are expected to be utilized by Indian road developers as well. As per an ancient Chinese proverb, if you wish to eliminate poverty in a village, you should build a road. So, by building roads faster, we can eliminate poverty faster, and we can also unlock the full potential of the economy by connecting all the latent markets in the hinterland of this vast subcontinent.
Disclaimer: The views expressed are personal and do not represent the views of his firm.
Sarat Madala is the Associate Director in one of the globally renowned Big-4 consulting firms and has over 13 years of experience in the field of technology and consulting. Sarat holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Andhra University and an MBA from the renowned Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies (NMIMS).