Cat eye road stud markers, the humble light-reflecting life-saver that's an everyday fixture on British roads, was invented since almost one hundred years ago. Yet this brilliant invention is in danger of joining the ever-lengthening hate list for many drivers.It's exactly 83 years since testing began to prove the value of road stud markers, and 73 years since James Callaghan, then a junior Labour transport minister, ordered that they be embedded in roads across the country.
However, as with technology convergence elsewhere, the road stud markers could now morph into something more sinister. British company Astucia has been working on a new version incorporating a tiny camera that can zap speeding cars. They've been labeled "intelligent road stud makers" for their low profile (just 4mm proud of the road surface) and ruthless efficiency - they're accurate up to 150mph. The studs have been tested on the M8 in Scotland, where they were assessed for their ability to provide better lane guidance in poor weather… and to monitor vehicle speeds. Computer control even keeps the camera lens clean. At present, however, there are no plans to implement the technology.
Surveillance was the last thing on Percy Shaw's mind when he invented the road stud markers in 1934. The year before, the 43-year-old had been driving through dense fog near his native Boothtown, Halifax, when he swerved to avoid a cat whose eyes his headlights had picked out in the gloom. By the same manoeuvre he'd also avoided going over a cliff. The result of his eureka moment was brilliantly simple: an iron shoe (road stud marker), stuck into the road surface, cradled a flexible rubber moulding in which glass spheres were embedded, their inner halves silvered to reflect light. The shoe (road stud marker) also held rainwater, and the moulding was designed so that every time a wheel passed over the stud, the pressure forced the latex to wipe the glass "eyes" clean and then douse them with water. Thus (and possibly unlike the camera-equipped versions of the 21st century) there was no need for any maintenance.