What is a better time to think about piles of snow than during the dog days of summer? Let’s think back to simpler times when the kids gathered around the tube-powered TV and watched futuristic shows like The Jetsons, Lost in Space, and Star Trek. We marveled at what the writers dreamed up for what the future would look like for us. I remember The Jetsons had a robot a vacuum cleaner that didn't need any human intervention to get the job done. Guess what, that has been here for a while now. I program my Roomba vacuum and it does the cleaning for me; heck, it can even empty itself. So, I thought to myself, I'll predict what I think snow removal will look like in 2075, and hopefully someone will dig this article up and delight in the futuristic conjecture that I dreamed up. Interestingly enough, most of us thought those items on Star Trek would most likely never happen or be a hundred years in the making, well we know now that things evolve must faster. So, let’s take a look at how I think winter maintenance will be in the future.
A small building holds four unmanned electric vehicles that glide on blasts of air. A storage tank on the left side of the snow maintenance building holds a compound of various plant-based materials that are treated with an environmentally safe additive. This system ensures that each E-Plow is automatically topped off with the powdered material for any upcoming winter events. It does this by reading the weight of the bins on each vehicle when it returns to the docking station for a recharge. The powdered material also adds very little weight to the unit to allow for its ease in maneuverability.
Global position satellites direct each E-Plow on a set route. The route can be changed at any given time to assist in an emergency situation such as a fire or other type of accident. Emergency officials will be able to redirect the operation too, as they deem necessary. Anyone can log onto the municipal website and see exactly where the vehicle is on its assigned route and how soon before it reaches your area. Each E-Plow can operate for twelve hours without a recharge and is programmed to complete its typical route in three hours or less. Recharging takes one hour, so during heavy snows, the vehicles are staggered in operation to ensure constant snow removal operations until the threat is over. It is now possible for even the remote township roads to adopt a dry pavement policy for wintertime driving. This means every effort is made to keep snow off the roadway at all times. I think by 2075 there most likely won’t be a lot of road travel anyways, but that’s another story.
Each vehicle is autonomous and has sensors on it that detect the road surface conditions like temperature, amount of snow or ice depth, and wind direction. Each is fully equipped to read the edge of the road and any obstacles that may be in the way like a dead animal, downed tree, or powerlines. Even when some old-timer gets his vintage 2021 SUV stuck in the snowbank. When it comes across one, it sends an alert to the Roadmaster to let him know so that it can be removed as soon as possible. If the vehicle cannot get around the obstacle, it automatically reprograms its route so it can continue. Mind you the days of hitting mailboxes, trees, park cars, (oh yes it contacts the police if a vehicle is parked illegally etc.) providing an exact location and live video of the situation.
Now let’s examine the future of the actual snow removal process. No longer will we be using large heavy plows to remove the snow, a combination of heat lasers, brushes, and air are used in conjunction to move the material to the side. Another spray attachment treats the snow moved the edge in the ditches to induce rapid melting as well. The machine constantly scans the roadway to adjust for conditions. As it passes, the plant-based material is spread evenly and in an exact amount to effectively treat the surface. Factors like the grade of the road, composition of the road, and wind direction allow for variables in the road treatment process. Of course, this new material being environmentally safe lasts much longer than nasty old salt, and being in a crushed form does offer some traction once applied. Thus negating the need for sand or antiskid, which use to build up on the edges of the road and cause drainage issues. No more need to sweep the roads in the springtime either! Snow tires as we know them will no longer exist.
I used to love to plow snow. A fresh blanket at three in the morning and no traffic to deal with, powering down the roadway and using mailboxes to guide you on the right path. The part I truly disliked was determining just when to start the process. As you all know, go out too early and you’ll end up repeating the process several times, don’t get out soon enough and the phone is ringing off the wall. With this modern system, it is tied directly to the nearest high-powered weather monitoring station. The weather station then activates plow vehicles based on the forecast and actual events. No one even has to call a crew in during the middle of the night and wait for a driver to make his coffee and pack a lunch. Employees are trained in electronics and have regular courses in computer technology. The new crew is educated on the electronic needs of the vehicle and is relegated to keeping the equipment lubricated and replacing worn parts. Of course, this is provided instantaneously so that upon return to the barn any and all repairs can be made, besides standard maintenance issues.
So you all are snug in your bed during a cold winter's night, you no longer hear the roar of the diesel engine and grinding of the passing plow to alert you that snow has piled up. You might see the flashing lights on the E-Plow but that will be your only indication that the plow has passed by your home. Of course, even with all these high-tech improvements, the municipal office will still get that call from an angry resident asking why it's been snowing for at least 20 minutes they haven't seen a plow unit yet. You get the standard: "Just what am I paying taxes for?" So this tells me some things in the future won’t be much different than they are today.
With that in mind, “let's fire this thing up,” unplug it and dial it in with a GPS modulated unit that determines air movement so it can navigate the subsurface needs from the latest precipitation expectations based on the current models and algorithms.
About the Author
David L. Anthony is a member of the Keystone Municipal Solutions team of experts. He is a veteran of municipal government, having served more than 32 years in various positions of public service. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about David and the Keystone Municipal Solutions team, click here.