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Why the Scots Gave One of their Roads Wiggly Lines

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Stirling Council had a problem. The A811 road between Stirling and Loch Lomond, Scotland, was overrun with speeding drivers breaking the 30 mph limit on the stretch of tarmac around Arnprior, a small village.

During an April 2013 meeting of the local council, the issue of traffic calming measures was debated. “Road markings plus additional traffic calming measures” were proposed near Arnprior. Sounds reasonable enough, right?

That's what Arnprior residents thought, until they viewed the resulting markings separating the route's two lanes. Rather than straight, even lines demarcating the direction of traffic, residents and drivers on the A811 were greeted by wiggly white lines that veered from side to side. The wavy markings weren't a mistake—they were deliberately painted that way in an attempt to slow down speeders.

Councillor Danny Gibson told The Daily Record, a Scottish newspaper, that “the center line markings are complemented by red road markings at the side. The combination influences driver behavior and encourages a reduction in vehicle speed. We have not been contacted by any local residents or road users to express any concerns about these markings.”

Local residents did complain to the press, though, and one opposition councillor said that the cost of painting the lines wonky, rather than straight, was 50 percent higher than normal.

The aim is to trick drivers into thinking that the road surface is uneven, and that they should slow down. But the optical illusion seems less than convincing.

The theory behind it is sensible, even if the way it was carried out wasn’t. A study by Leeds University found that vertical shifts in the carriageway—which the road markings were meant to mimic—reduce average driving speed by more than any other suggested traffic calming measure, including narrowing the width of a road. Simply put, people don’t want to risk their car going airborne by speeding too fast over the brow of a hill.

All of the resulting negative publicity, however, caused a new problem: Stirling Council’s illusion has been exposed. The road passing through Arnprior was revealed to not be bumpy at all—just wiggly. (Then again, we’re not wholly convinced anyone was really fooled in the first place.)

What’s more, the road markings intended to reduce speed and increase safety may in fact have had the opposite effect. The strange paintwork drew the world’s attention, and became something of a tourist attraction. 

Even so, the village of Wimborne, located in South West England's district of Dorset, tried to play a similar trick on its drivers last year, resulting in equally outraged residents. Realizing how unpopular their decision was, Wimborne's town council members were quick to reject the (wiggly) former party line. "After recent resurfacing work the lines were renewed, but the curve in the markings was more pronounced than it should have been," the council stated in a February 2014 release (via the BBC). "We have now corrected this and apologise for any problems this may have caused."  

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Wisconsin Considers Building a Highway Lane for Self-Driving Cars
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iStock

Self-driving cars are already a reality, as companies like Google and Tesla have demonstrated. But the logistics of getting them on the roads with human-operated cars have slowed down their long-anticipated takeover. In Wisconsin, highway planners are looking into one way to accommodate autonomous vehicles when they arrive. Dedicated lanes for driverless cars are being considered for I-94, USA Today’s Journal Sentinel reports.

The project is supported by Foxconn, the Taiwanese tech supplier building a new facility 20 miles outside of downtown Milwaukee. Once the site is complete, it will cover 20 million square feet and employ up to 13,000 people. According to the company, setting aside space for self-driving vehicles could ease traffic congestion, both from new workers and cargo trucks, after the factory opens.

Officials were already planning to expand I-94 from six lanes to eight to accommodate the eventual increase in traffic, but Foxconn says that may not be enough. “We’re thinking about two years down the road; they’re thinking 20 years down the road,” Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, said at a meeting of the Greater Milwaukee Committee.

While Sheehy said the autonomous car lane proposal is “on the table,” he didn’t make any promises regarding the plan’s future. Wisconsin isn’t the only state looking ahead to new developments in road travel: In October, tech investors pitched an idea to Washington state officials to convert Interstate 5 into a corridor for autonomous vehicles between Seattle and Vancouver.

[h/t Journal Sentinel]

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Ford Tests Exoskeletons That Make Overhead Tasks Easier for Workers
Ford
Ford

Engineers have already developed exoskeletons capable of supporting elderly people and helping paralyzed people walk. But the technology offers benefits to able-bodied wearers as well. That's what employees are learning at Ford's U.S. factories. As Road Show reports, workers there are suiting up in upper body exoskeletons designed to alleviate fatigue and decrease their chance of injury.

Assembling car parts requires workers to reach their arms above their heads thousands of times a day. While most healthy individuals would have no problem doing this type of work for a few minutes at a time, the rate at which these employees are completing the tasks puts an enormous strain on their bodies. This can lead to back and shoulder fatigue, soreness, and even injury.

In an effort to make their workforce more comfortable and productive, Ford has been testing the EksoVest from Ekso Bionics in two of its American auto plants. The non-powered suits fit people between 5 feet and 6 feet 4 inches tall. The lightweight design provides up to 15 pounds of support to each arm without weighing wearers down or restricting their movements. According to Ford, the pilot program has contributed to an 83 percent drop in the number of incidents that led to time off between 2005 and 2016. And on top of staying healthy enough to go to work, employees have reported feeling more energized during their off hours.

The EksoVest has already helped workers launch several new vehicles, including the 2018 Ford Mustang and the 2018 Lincoln Navigator. Following the trial program's success, the automobile company next plans to test the technology in factories in Europe and South America.

[h/t Road Show]

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