Last week, we had the chance to connect with Tim Sylvester, Founder and CEO of Integrated Roadways. With the power of technology, Integrated Roadways is creating intelligent networks: connecting drivers to the internet, supporting driverless vehicle technology and providing true connectivity between smart cars and tomorrow’s smart cities.
As a finalist in ITS America Competition for “Sustainability and Resiliency in Transportation”, Integrated Roadways is a key player in paving the way towards future roadways. Let’s learn more about Tim!
Tell us a little bit about you, your background, and your current role:
I’m an electrical and computer engineer by education, with about 20 years of experience in construction. I’m the founder, President, and Chief Technology Officer of Integrated Roadways, where our mission is to transform roads into networks for connected, electric, and autonomous vehicles, and doing everything we can to make the road network fully sustainable, beginning to end, in every dimension.
What is a fun fact about you?
It’s fair to say my love for engineering and construction came at least in some part from a childhood fascination with Legos. I designed our pavement system to be modular, factory-built, and unitized, and often explain our products to people as “like building roadways out of Legos.” I use this simile to justify the large display of Lego sets that sits just over my shoulder on video calls – after all, thanks to COVID, we all need an interesting backdrop that can act as an icebreaker. At the moment, because of “Spider- Man: No Way Home’s” pending release, the scene on display is based around the Daily Bugle, although I recently added Thanos’ gauntlet from “Infinity War,” too. I try to change it up a couple times a year to justify buying new sets!
Why do you think climate change and sustainability is such an important topic today?
We can’t buy a new planet when this one goes bad. It’s taken five billion years for Earth to become habitable to us, and we don’t have another one if we mess it up. We’re utterly dependent on Earth to survive and it’s foolish to squander it. We must, as quickly and aggressively as is feasible, shift our industries and lifestyles to fully sustainable products, processes, and outcomes so humanity survives. “When the ocean turned to poison and the last plant died, only then did man discover he could not eat money.” Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints – we owe it to ourselves, our ancestors, and our descendants in equal measure.
The infrastructure industry is starting to recognize we have to be more considerate of the impact our actions have on the living world we depend on. Our natural world is not disposable, so we must ensure our work complements and preserves it.
I take sustainability a bit further than usual. To me, it’s not just about materials (asphalt vs. concrete), locations (building in a floodplain, through wilderness, or on a mountainside), or other means or methods to minimize harm to the natural world. It’s also about improving business, governmental, and social practices to ensure our communities and infrastructure are sustainably financed, so they are self-supporting economically; and sustainable technologically, so a 50-year roadway isn’t limited by a 5-year technology cycle with an enormous and recurring e-waste footprint.
That in mind, I’m happy to share that we were a finalist in the ITS America Annual Meeting Innovation Competition for “Sustainability and Resiliency in Transportation” sponsored by Amazon Web Services for our work in the recharging of electric vehicles, V2X connected vehicle technologies, autonomous vehicle navigation, and extending the life and functionality of our roadways.
What do you envision your industry looking like 10 years from now?
Our transportation infrastructure industry is struggling to understand and manage a sea-change that must occur out of necessity in public works, which is one of the most heavily regulated and controlled markets on earth. Over the last 100 years, we’ve built five million miles of paved roadways that enabled the economic, technological, and social progress of the 1900s, but now we need to repave half of our roads and don’t have the money to do so. At the same time, we need new technologies for connected, electric, and autonomous vehicles (CEAVs).
These aren’t two competing problems, in fact, each solves the other: Upgrading roads for CEAVs and using the revenues from services enables us to pay for the rebuilding of roadways, transforming roads into networks and making roads fund themselves. It took 100 years to pave five million miles with asphalt and concrete and I think in the next 10 years, with the right leadership and technology, we can get at least 10% of the roads upgraded as fully sustainable assets. The traditional infrastructure industry has done a pretty good job at finding sustainable materials and methods but has struggled to drive their adoption. When we add the financial and technology sustainability aspects that enable this adoption, we’re off to the races.
What can the average person do to make a difference?
The average person’s best approach starts at home, everything living grows from the ground up. Call your city council and ask how they plan to implement infrastructure that enables the adoption of more sustainable transit and travel modes, like connected, electric, and autonomous vehicles. Don’t tolerate business-as-usual, “we’ve always done it this way” responses, those are just excuses. Anyone who’s not on board needs to be out the door, we don’t have time for foot dragging or half-measures.
When population density and origin-destination pairs justify it, we should also take a second look at urban and interurban rail transit, but that’s not usually a solution for our smaller or lower density communities, so we need to be sure advocacy on that topic is focused on places and projects where rail makes sense instead of pretending it’s a universal solution that works everywhere without question. That goes for other transit modes too, like bicycles, scooters, or busses: None of these are universal solutions, what we need will is a mélange of all forms of mobility.
Employers and business owners can stop requiring workers to commute – which induces traffic and pollution – if it’s unnecessary for their job responsibilities. What may have been necessary in the 1960s isn’t a best practice in 2022. We have internet, phones, and computers at home now. Let’s work from home as much as possible so we can have clearer skies and roads. This in turn opens more built-space for residences, making it less expensive to live in compact, dense, human-scale cities that have more amenities and produce less pollution per unit area. That most people prefer working from home, helping them to have an improved work-life balance and more satisfaction with their lifestyle, isn’t just an unintended consequence, it’s a core benefit we should embrace, promote, and celebrate.
I believe that if we don’t invest in ourselves and continue advancing our communities beyond the disposable, single-use, planned-obsolescence practices of the last 100 years, we can’t possibly make our way to a fully sustainable world in time to ensure the survival of our planet’s ecosystem. When a city makes an effort to actually do something productive to advance the community’s infrastructure, like removing parking for parklets and patios, shutting down streets for pedestrian areas, approving denser housing with lower parking minimums, it’s because our human civilization depends on it. We need to strongly and loudly support these advances in whatever way we can, and be the change we wish to see in the world.
I’m reminded of the cartoon that says “What if climate change is all a big hoax, and we make the world a better place for no reason?” Well, what’s so bad about that? Let’s build a society that enables human happiness and contentment, while being fully ecologically sustainable so that the plants, animals, and our future descendants are safe and happy too. We know it’s possible, all it will take is the motivation and will to see it through.
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