Lidar, big data could make de-icing roads more efficient

Future de-icing vehicles could use data and lidar to help ensure better city coverage and safer roads. The city of Knoxville, Tennessee, will put the technology to the test this winter with one specially equipped de-icing truck.

Digital Trends reported on the technology last week, which was developed through a partnership with the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Tennessee. Basically, the truck features a lidar system, often reserved for self-driving cars to “see” the world around them, which understands the data fed to the truck.

All of the data formed what the researchers call the “Road Vulnerability Index.” The data scores local roads to determine if it’s more at risk of icing over, or less likely. For example, the data looks at road gradients, sun exposure, and more. Thus, a flat road with a lot of exposure to the sun will be ranked lower on the index, while a hilly road with trees or buildings that block the sun from melting the ice naturally, will be ranked higher.

The special de-icer truck understands the data from the index and can more efficiently disperse de-icer on the roads. Additionally, crews know which areas are the best to reach first, and can perhaps save de-icer and salt for harder hit areas, rather than a road that doesn’t need much, if any at all.

The solution could be a major help for cities to conserve resources and budgets. One major storm can rip through a budget for de-icing roads, and the more efficiently the trucks apply the product, the more money the city can save.

If the technology proves effective, it’s likely more cities in Tennessee will adopt the approach, and maybe even colder states where snow and ice are more common.

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