By Patrick McGuiness
Generally speaking, the snow industry has not made fundamental changes to the way we do business for decades. Yes, plow blades have gotten larger, new attachments have been developed for equipment and new treatments have been developed for pre- and post-snow event management. But the basics of a worker, physically located with a piece of equipment to operate it, have remained static. The future will be drastically different, with equipment operated remotely, and even equipment that remembers what to do at each job site with no operator required. Looking at technological trends, what follows are my educated guesses on how the industry will be affected by the changes.
The current rate of technological change is staggering. The amount of computing power that the average person carries around in their pocket is thousands of times faster than the original home computers. And the rate of change is not slowing. Sensors will continue to develop and become smaller, the Internet of Things will grow exponentially, artificial intelligence will become even more integrated into our daily lives, and driver-less technology will incorporate all of this to change the way the snow industry does business.
Moore’s law is a theory that every two years, the number of transistors that can fit on a square inch of a microchip will double. Since 1965, with some slight adjustments, it has remained constant. What this means for technology is that the speed of change is on an upward curve that is increasingly harder to keep up with. It also shows how smaller technology becomes available, and how this smaller technology makes new products more usable. It also means that technology becomes more affordable.
Sensors have existed for a long time, but they have often been bulky and required a hard-wire transmission of data over whatever connection was available. Sensors now communicate wirelessly and are smaller and smaller. As sensors continue to be developed, it will be possible to install them at every job site to transmit site conditions back to snow service providers. As time goes on, sensors will likely become a part of construction materials at the time of installation. Imagine concrete and asphalt with tiny sensors incorporated into it, sending data to property owners or service providers. All of this will use the increasing number of devices connected to the internet.
The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the massive collection of devices, equipment, buildings and other items that are embedded with electronics, software and sensors, and have network connectivity, which enables all of these things to collect and exchange data. It includes nearly anything you can think of, including refrigerators, thermostats, moisture sensors, security systems, phones, watches and more. All of these devices as well as new ones have the potential to share information. Imagine being given access to property security camera feeds so you can see conditions in real time. The sensors mentioned earlier are sending data on parking lot temperature, moisture levels, and more. All of this will improve snow contractors’ ability to provide quality service to clients.
Artificial intelligence (AI) sounds scary, conjuring up images of robots taking over the planet. The reality is that we are already using AI every day and it will become increasingly integrated into machines and equipment. AI is technology that has the ability to learn. One example familiar to many people is the Roomba. The cordless vacuum robot learns the rooms of a home and is able to then vacuum the home on its own. Similar products for snow plowing and lawn mowing will surely become mainstream in the coming years. Snow industry services are certainly more complex than vacuuming a room, but the technology will continue to grow and adapt to the unique issues of the snow industry.
One final area where technological change will significantly affect the snow industry is in driver-less vehicle technology. As Google’s self-driving car expands testing, and other auto manufacturers follow suit, there is no question that driver-less vehicles will be the way of the future. The real question is how long will the conversion take, and how will the technology be used for snow equipment? While the vehicles or equipment may be driver-less, the operation of the attachments will likely remain controlled by an operator, at least in the near future. Cameras mounted on equipment will allow the operator to see the entire operating environment and operate the equipment remotely like a video game.
While these changes may seem a long way off, the increased rate of technological change may cause them to happen sooner than we think. There are no guarantees that the future will look like this for our industry, but based on current trends, we look to be heading in this direction. Who knows though, many educated people believed the Segway was the future of personal transportation and now they are used mainly for tourism and by mall security guards. Regardless of the specific innovations that take hold for the snow industry, there are major changes ahead and it is an exciting time to be a part of it all.
Simon Property Group takes IoT approach to snow removal
LED Current, powered by GE, and Simon Property Group are working together to build the mall of the future.
Simon Property Group, a global leader in retail real estate, and Current, powered by GE, are partnering on the next generation of efficient, intelligent malls. In 2016, Simon installed intelligent LEDs, electric vehicle charging stations and demand response systems to shift and optimize electricity use. These solutions are projected to save Simon 50% to 75% in energy costs in the applications where they’re installed.
At Castleton Square Mall near Simon’s headquarters in Indianapolis, IN, Simon and Current collaborated on an intelligent parking lot. Data gathered from sensors is analyzed by GE’s industrial strength Predix platform to help Simon take a smarter approach to parking lot management.
In one case, Simon successfully used sensors in Current’s intelligent LEDs to measure the effectiveness of its snow removal efforts. Simon projects that better monitoring and analysis could save more than 20% in annual snow removal costs and that intelligent LEDs could unlock additional future outcomes, including directing shoppers to vacant parking spaces, highlighting unusual traffic patterns or congestion and alerting facility teams to disabled vehicles.
Patrick McGuiness is an attorney, speaker, author and strategic planner. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.