France Will Build More Than 600 Miles of Solar-Powered Roadways

France may soon be the world’s leader in solar-powered roadways. Ségolène Royal, the country’s minister of ecology, announced a plan last month to pave more than 600 miles of French roads with photovoltaic panels, beginning this spring. The project will be completed over the next five years.

Made by Colas, a construction company that has been working on the technology for five years, the photovoltaic tiles are designed to stay warm enough to prevent ice from forming on top of them, and to withstand the weight of cars. According to the French plan, 1 kilometer of solar road (.6 miles) could power a town of 5000 people for a year. Should it work, the solar road network would provide 8 percent of the country’s population with electricity.

Some critics argue that solar roads will be too expensive to be worthwhile on a large scale, so France’s project will provide a more definitive test of the technology’s capabilities (or drawbacks). The photovoltaic cells will have to hold up under the impact of heavy traffic (including trucks) and remain safe in winter conditions.

France is not the first country to invest in solar roads, but it would be the first to do so for vehicular highways. A U.S. solar road project—funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation and more than $2 million raised on Indiegogo—is currently in the research phase, but has not begun a pilot test yet. South Korea and the Netherlands, on the other hand, are both experimenting with solar panels installed on bike lanes. Korea’s are installed on a structure on top of the bike lane, shading the cyclists below, while the Dutch solar panels are buried within the bike path itself. In 2015, the 328-foot-long Dutch pilot was able to generate enough power to run three homes for a year.

[h/t Co.Exist]

All images courtesy Colas.

Google Adds 'Wheelchair Accessible' Option to Its Transit Maps

Google Maps is more than just a tool for getting from Point A to Point B. The app can highlight the traffic congestion on your route, show you restaurants and attractions nearby, and even estimate how crowded your destination is in real time. But until recently, people who use wheelchairs to get around had to look elsewhere to find routes that fit their needs. Now, Google is changing that: As Mashable reports, the company's Maps app now offers a wheelchair accessible option to users.

Anyone with the latest version of Google Maps can access the new feature. After opening the app, just enter your starting point and destination and select the public transit choices for your trip. Maps will automatically show you the quickest routes, but the stations it suggests aren't necessarily wheelchair accessible.

To narrow down your choices, hit "Options" in the blue bar above the recommended routes then scroll down to the bottom of the page to find "Wheelchair accessible." When that filter is checked, your list of routes will update to only show you bus stops and subways that are also accessible by ramp or elevator where there are stairs.

While it's a step in the right direction, the new accessibility feature isn't a perfect navigation tool for people using wheelchairs. Google Maps may be able to tell you if a station has an elevator, but it won't tell you if that elevator is out of service, an issue that's unfortunately common in major cities.

The wheelchair-accessible option launched in London, New York, Tokyo, Mexico City, Boston, and Sydney on March 15, and Google plans to expand it to more transit systems down the road.

[h/t Mashable]

Gumdrop LTD.
British Designer Recycles Used Chewing Gum Into Everyday Items—Including the Soles of Shoes
Gumdrop LTD.
Gumdrop LTD.

Even if you never chew gum, you may have stepped on a gob of the stuff discarded on a sidewalk or felt it stuck beneath a park bench. Chewing gum is the second most common source of litter, behind cigarettes, and because it isn't biodegradable, cities are struggling to get rid of it. Now, the BBC reports that British designer Anna Bullus has found an ingenious alternative to tossing old gum on the ground: She's repurposing it into new products normally made out of rubber or plastic.

Bullus started her gum recycling project by installing bright pink bins called Gumdrops around sites in the UK. The containers, which are made from recycled gum themselves, come with signs telling passersby that any old gum dropped into the bin will be recycled. In some places, the receptacles led to an 89 percent decrease in gum litter.

After analyzing the chemistry of chewing gum, Bullus found that it contains polyisobutylene, a type of polymer similar to plastic that's often used as a synthetic rubber. This means it can be used to make everyday products like doorstops, coffee cups, and plasticware. It can even been turned into playful pink soles for shoes, which look much more attractive than the gum that normally ends up on the bottom of your shoe.

The collected gum is processed with other plastic polymers at a recycling plant in Worcester, and from there it's sent to a plastic molding specialist in Leicester, where Bullus executes her designs. Combs, lunchboxes, pencils, Frisbees and many other items made from gum are available to order from the Gumdrop website. Anna Bullus is also accepting suggestions of other products to make from the chewed-up gum she collects.

Pink coffee cups.

Pink guitar pick.

Dog catching frisbee.

Pink rubber boot.

[h/t BBC]

All images courtesy of Gumdrop Ltd.


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