Technology impacts snow and ice management every day. The industry continues to improve the tools we use to do our jobs. Like the changes in the transportation and parking sectors, it’s just a matter of time before high-tech products begin to drive a higher level of thinking in terms of equipment that can be used to improve efficiencies in the snow industry.
Over the past five years, robotics and drone technologies have seen vast improvements and innovation. The robotics industry grew by 15% in 2015, with over 250,000 new robots sold. Most of these are still in the industrial sector, but robots are going mainstream in many ways, and the next decade will see new innovations for the business and consumer sectors that may impact snow and ice management.
Today, a quick Google search for robot snow removal returns mainly quirky small designs that are fun and might work on your driveway but aren’t practical for a residential route and most certainly not for commercial snow and ice management. But, they’re planting the seeds. In the next decade, serious robotic solutions to manage snow and ice will come to market. Will the trend take hold? Will the snow and ice management industry embrace these tools? Will someone be bold enough to use them?
Conversely, will you be prepared to deal with robots on sites that may get in the way of snow services? The market for security robots alone is expected to eclipse $2 billion worldwide by 2022. Can you imagine footing the bill when a driver backs over one of them in a parking lot? Check out www.knightscope.com
and then tell us we are crazy!
It’s not just robots that are going gonzo. The commercial applications for drones may eclipse $120 billion by 2020. From bridge inspections, to delivery of goods, to crop management, to law enforcement, drones are becoming a go-to tool for wide swaths of our societies. Are these tools that the snow industry can leverage? Consider the possibilities: site inspections, estimating, rooftop examinations to determine snow depth - the opportunities are intriguing.
These tools, combined with software, may realistically impact our industry sooner than we think.
Robots automating service
Roberts are being developed for use in several applications - taking inventory at your local big-box store, performing security checks, and even bringing you hotel room service. Knightscope (below, left), for example, is a 300-pound, sensor-filled droid that patrols an area and detects suspicious behavior. The machines come with navigation capabilities and safety features to allow them to perform simple jobs autonomously. The Kobi (below, right) even clears snow. It connects to a weather service and starts removing snow while it is falling. After one pass, it charges and restarts.
Droning on in snow & ice
Drones make perfect sense for use in snow and ice management. What better way to inspect a rooftop at a commercial property to determine whether snowfall depth requires action than with a camera-equipped drone? Opportunities exist for site inspections, estimating and more. Some SIMA members are already working toward implementing drones into operations, and a city in Massachusetts used the technology to view rooftops for structural damage after blizzards in 2015. Navigating legal issues and FAA regulations will need to be managed but this is an area that has promise in snow and ice.
Portions of Route 66 are being paved with solar panels that will generate clean energy. The panels are made of specially formulated tempered glass, which can withstand the weight of semi-trucks, and have a tractioned surface similar to asphalt. They also contain heating elements, so they do not freeze in colder climates. The technology was spearheaded by Utah-based Solar Roadways. It’s not unthinkable that, if successful, this technology could make its way to commercial applications.