‘Smart plows’ use real-time data to keep roads safe

Posted by Justin Hesser on January 3, 2014

Residents across the Northeastern part of the United States, from Ohio to Maine, are in the process of digging out from the first major snow storm of 2014. Some areas have seen as much as two feet of the white fluff pile up and keeping the roadways clear is becoming increasingly difficult. On top of that, the below-zero temperatures are making road treatment processes less than effective.

This scene is not unusual in many parts of the United States during the winter months, but there is a new innovation that is making snow removal and road work much easier.

A recent article from the Daily Camera, a Boulder Colorado newspaper, profiled the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the new "smart plow" it developed and is testing in Michigan, Minnesota and Nevada. The process works by analyzing information from several databases including satellite and radar observations, computer weather models and real-time data collected from special sensors outfitted to plows that are clearing the streets.

The goal is to continuously monitor weather conditions and keep up with trouble areas more effectively. This will reduce accidents and save states potentially millions of dollars in maintenance.

"Whereas in the past, drivers would have some new data maybe every 30, 40 or 50 miles, now you could just look up every mile, and hopefully pick up the more subtle small things that happen on the roadway," said Sheldon Drobot, the NCAR scientist who has overseen the system's design.

This is just another example of how custom database software can be used to harness big data and improve an aspect of daily life.