MnDOT is testing a mobile road condition monitor that uses infrared technology to detect hazardous ice, snow or wet conditions without even touching the pavement.
Maintenance crews hope the device, called the High Sierra Surface Sentinel, could help them better determine when it’s time to apply salt when they’re plowing. The mobile sensor reports air temperature, surface temperature and road friction data.
“The biggest reason we’re looking at this is for the friction reading,” said MnDOT Salt Solutions Coordinator Joe Huneke. “Typically, when operators are patrolling their route and the road looks like it’s getting icy, they’ll err on the side of caution and apply salt — and it may not need it.”
The device being tested by snow and ice crews in northern Minnesota would also provide real-time surface weather conditions. Currently, plow operators and supervisors must enter road conditions into a computer or relay them by phone, a time-consuming process that operators are not always able to perform in a timely manner.
The biggest potential benefit, however, is lower salt consumption.
“Sometimes you get a light cold snow event where it might look like there’s a little ice on the road, but, in fact, you have good friction numbers and you don’t need salt. Once you put chemical down, you’re committed to it,” Huneke said.
District 1 snow and ice crews are evaluating the unit pictured below for its accuracy and effectiveness in determining slippery conditions. It will be compared with another device tested in District 3 that also uses infrared technology to determine how slippery the road is, and technology being tested in District 6 that uses gravitational force to determine the road surface friction.
MnDOT’s Office of Maintenance has its own research program designed to let maintenance personnel test innovative ideas to keep our roads smooth, snow-free and safe. They even put out a monthly bulletin featuring new ideas and technologies. (You can find the back issues here.)
Other winter maintenance research projects are featured in MnDOT’s 2011-2013 Maintenance Operations Research Report (PDF, 9 MB, 98 pages)