Alaska's severe winter weather conditions and the lengthy winter nights can produce some of the most hazardous driving conditions in America. This combination can reduce visibility to the point where the efficiency of snow removal operations is greatly affected and can result in collateral damage to infrastructure (i.e. guardrails, signs, milepost markers, equipment, etc.) as well as increase the likelihood of collision with other vehicles. As the efficiency of snow clearing operations declines there is a corresponding deterioration of driving conditions, which can ultimately result in the closure of highways. Highway closures affect the public's ability to access essential services, prevent public safety agencies from responding to emergencies, and result in substantial economic impact to the affected communities.
The Smart Snowblower/Snowplow
is a snow blower and/or a snowplow outfitted with
sophisticated instruments to keep the driver in
the lane. The main purpose is to avoid other vehicles
and obstacles such as guardrail during low visibility
caused from blowing snow, fog and darkness.
The vehicle-mounted portion of the system combines a recent advancement in Differential Global Positioning System (DGPS), called Real Time Kinematics (RTK), and collision avoidance technology. The supporting infrastructure includes a base station and additional signal repeaters to extend coverage to more than 20 miles of highway. The system relies on a highway model that is generated using Geographic Information System (GIS) based survey methods that depicts the entire infrastructure, hazards, and the highway alignment within the right of way for this segment of the highway.
Vehicle positioning, collision avoidance, and the driver interface constitute the primary components of the Smart Snow blower/Snowplow. Vehicle positioning is accomplished through a combination of a DGPS - geo-spatial database. Collision warning and avoidance is accomplished with radar sensors and signal processing techniques, which take advantage of information returned by the vehicle positioning system. Finally, information is provided to the driver via the driver interface system, which will employ graphical, haptic, and auditory interfaces (or any combination thereof as deemed appropriate by the human factors work) to provide an optimal information path to the driver.
The project has been successfully deployed and is operational in Thompson Pass and Valdez on the Richardson Highway. This site was chosen because of the severe environmental conditions (over 450" of snowfall annually) that are common to this portion of the Richardson Highway during the winter months.
Valdez District Superintendent