The Michigan Department of Transportation’s “new weapon” for tracking ice- and snow-packed roads got some national exposure Wednesday on “CBS This Morning,” which aired a story on different technologies used to improve winter travel conditions.
CBS sent a crew to Michigan on Jan. 15 to interview an engineer from MDOT and shoot footage of some of the 60 fleet vehicles the transportation department is using to conduct sensor technology research along the I-94 corridor in nine Michigan counties.
The footage and interviews became part of a segment focusing on Michigan and two other states, Minnesota and Nevada, that are testing high-tech tools to improve road conditions related to winter weather and potentially save more lives, MDOT said in a news release.
Here’s how the technology works:
As snowplows travel down the road, smartphones equipped with sensors and mounted on the vehicle’s dashboard collect atmospheric data and data about the pavement condition and relay the information every five minutes to a secure server at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute and then on to the National Center for Atmospheric Conditions in Colorado.
NCAR will use the data to explore and develop applications to provide near real-time advisory warnings for motorists and provide snowplow drivers with improved weather forecasts and road treatment applications.
Steve Cook, manager of the Integrated Mobile Observations (IMO) research said the data allows MDOT “to provide better forecasts and information for the operators who are managing the storm, make roads safer for drivers, and help protect the environment."
The IMO research is being conducted by the Federal Highway Administration Roadway Weather Management Program, MDOT, and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI).The project involves collecting data from 60 fleet vehicles traveling on portions of I-94 on a regular basis, including 20 snowplows and 11 light vehicles on the southwest portion of I-94 in Berrien, Van Buren, Kalamazoo, and Calhoun counties; 15 light fleet vehicles on the middle portion of I-94 in Jackson and Washtenaw counties; and 14 light fleet vehicles on the southwest portion of I-94 in Wayne, Macomb, and St. Clair counties.
"This technology has the very real potential to make winter driving safer and winter road maintenance more efficient and effective," said State Transportation Director Kirk T. Steudle. "Since the CBS This Morning segment was picked up by local affiliates across Michigan (Wednesday), many more Michigan residents are now aware of MDOT's role in national transportation research."
CBS called the IMO research a "new weapon for tracking ice and snow-covered roads." IMO Project Manager Steve Cook emphasized the research is being done to develop technology that will prioritize winter maintenance to improve safety, save money and have less of an impact on the environment by reducing the amounts of salt and chemicals being used to clear roads.