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June 6, 2017

Innovation creates new opportunites and unexpected results 

I’m lovin’ it

Workers at a McDonald’s in East Palestine, Ohio, thought they were being pranked when a van rolled through the drive-thru driven by an 8-year-old boy.

But this was no hidden camera show, and there were no grown-ups hiding in the backseat.

The boy and his 4-year-old sister were just hungry, but they had already eaten dinner, their dad was in bed, and mom had fallen asleep on the couch.

Not wanting to wake them, the boy was able to stand on his tip-toes and nab the keys to his father’s work van.

After seating his sister in the back seat, the boy drove about a mile and a half to the restaurant. The journey took them over railroad tracks and through four intersections, requiring several right-hand turns and even one left-hand turn, all of which he navigated safely.

Once the pair arrived at McDonald’s, they paid for a cheeseburger, chicken nuggets and fries with money from the boy’s piggy bank.

Police weren’t far behind, following up on several calls they had received from concerned motorists who had spotted the pint-sized driver.

Officers said they were impressed that the boy obeyed traffic rules, stopped at red lights, adhered to the speed limit and didn’t even hit anything.

To the surprise of no parents anywhere, when the boy was asked how he had become such a good driver, he said he learned from watching YouTube videos.

Moment in the sun

That’s not a light-up dance floor in the Sandpoint, Idaho, town square. Those 30 hexagonal tiles with flashing LEDs are actually the first public test of solar roadway technology in the U.S.  

Scott and Julie Brusaw are the husband-and-wife team that developed the system, which they hope will one day be able to generate renewable energy from any surface that can be walked or driven on.

Each 70-lb tile contains a 44-watt solar panel underneath a half-inch of specially formulated tempered glass capable of withstanding the weight of a semi truck.

The tiles include LED lights designed to replace road markings and heating elements to prevent their hardware from freezing during winter, keeping roads free of ice and snow.

For the Brusaws, the road to success was anything but smooth.

After starting out with three grants from the U.S. DOT, plus a viral crowdfunding campaign that raised $2.2 million, the Brusaws were awarded a pilot installation in Sandpoint.

Unfortunately, the scheduled launch last October hit a few snags when a manufacturing defect caused three quarters of the panels to malfunction. Four more reportedly broke down after exposure to rain, followed by a smoking electrical panel that took the panels offline for a week.

Since March, however, the installation has been running smoothly, and the couple are now working on a walkway installation at the Rte. 66 Welcome Center in Conway, Mo. If all goes well, one of the oldest U.S. highways could become one of the most modern.

Sticking it to drivers

A New York company has developed an alternative to the traditional car boot, and it really sucks.

It’s called the Barnacle, and instead of clamping onto your tire, it sticks to your windshield.

Made of rugged yellow plastic, the 6-sq-ft rectangle covers nearly the entire windshield and attaches with 750 lb of force by commercial-grade suction cups. 

The only way to remove it is by calling a hotline and paying your fine with a credit card in exchange for a release code that deactivates the suction pumps.

And just to rub it in, drivers are then required to return the Barnacle to a drop-off location within 24 hours or risk an additional fine.

Of course, you also could stick your head out the window and drive off with the Barnacle still attached, but that will trigger a high-pitched alarm, and eventually police will locate you through the Barnacle’s internal GPS tracker.

The Barnacle’s creators believe the device has many advantages over a car boot. Barnacles are half the weight and can be attached in half the time, usually less than one minute. They also can be installed curbside, making them safer for parking enforcers who often have to kneel in traffic to attach a boot.

Plus, with motorists being able to remove and return the Barnacle themselves, officers are relieved of a return visit to set the offender’s vehicle free, and the inevitable unpleasant words and gestures from the angry driver.

About The Author: Matthews has been chronicling the unexpectedly humorous side of transportation news since 2000. The stories are all true.

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