U professor and MnDOT develop smarter snow plow

Developers added a small front wheel, which will detect ice and prompt a mechanism to disperse sand and salt.

by Katherine Lymn

A University of Minnesota professorâÄôs collaboration with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) has culminated in the development of a smarter snow plow. A wheel that can sense ice would trigger the sand and salt spreader in the back of the snow plows, said Sue Lodahl , assistant state maintenance engineer for MnDOT. âÄúThe intent of the project was to maybe put [a wheel] on a snow plow and see if it would have enough time to recognize that the friction was reduced and [that] there was ice,âÄù she said. Lodahl said the sensor wheels would cost approximately $1,500 each and can be attached to the 800 snow plows the city already owns. According to the city of Minneapolis, plows cover a total of 1,040 miles of streets each winter. This figure does not include 57 miles of parkways and 3,700 alleys . Raj Rajamani, the professor leading the research, teaches in the department of mechanical engineering at the University. His past research focused on technologies for both automotive and biomedical applications. âÄúThe best part about this technology is that we can reduce the amount of salt and chemicals that are applied to roadways during the winter without compromising safety,âÄù Rajamani wrote in a report on the research from last year. Another 2007 report on the research described the wheels as âÄúreliable and inexpensiveâÄù because the wheels have minimal moving parts and are based off lateral tire forces. The current phase of the project began in December 2007 and has received $160,000 in funding from the Office of Policy Analysis, Research and Innovation âÄôs Research Services Section of MnDOT. RajamaniâÄôs funding expires in February 2010. Rajamani will find out by that time whether or not he is approved for additional funding, which would go toward trying out the wheel in the following winter, officially starting Oct. 1 2010, Lodahl said. Lodahl said the field tests would involve trying the wheel out on supervisor trucks.