'Smart' snowplows sense winter road conditions for effective cleanup

Dec. 17, 2013 at 4:52 PM
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BOULDER, Colo., Dec. 17 (UPI) -- Snowplows with new digital intelligence systems can help transportation workers clear winter roads more quickly and effectively, U.S. scientists say.

This winter, four U.S. states are deploying hundreds of plows with custom-designed sensors that perform ongoing measurements of road and weather conditions, the National Center for Atmospheric Research reported Tuesday.

The system combines the sensor measurements with satellite and radar observations and computer weather models, giving a near-real time picture of road conditions updated every 5 to 15 minutes.

"This offers the potential to transform winter driving safety," center scientist Sheldon Drobot said. "It gives road crews an incredibly detailed, mile-by-mile view of road conditions. They can quickly identify the stretches where dangerous ice and snow are building up."

The system, built by the center's researchers and funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation, is being used on major highways across Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada and New York.

"Collecting atmosphere and road surface condition data from vehicles in near-real time provides another important layer of information never before available," Steven Cook, field services engineer of the Michigan Department of Transportation, said.

If it passes key tests, officials said, it will be transferred to private vendors and become available to additional states in time for next winter.

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