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Center for Transportation Studies

Programs & Labs

Driver-Assist Technology for Snowplows and Specialty Vehicles

Driver-assist technology developed by the ITS Institute has been used extensively on snowplows and other specialty vehicles, including patrol cars, ambulances, and heavy vehicles. The technology combines lidar and radar sensors with head-up display technology and onboard geospatial databases to help vehicle operators keep an eye on where they are and what else is around—even when they can’t see the actual road. Numerous vehicles using the driver-assist system have been deployed in both Minnesota and Alaska.

In Alaska, the driver-assist technology was installed on two snowplows and two airport rescue and firefighting vehicles in 2003. The system allowed operators to clear snow from Thompson Pass, a 2,800-foot-high gap in the mountains northeast of Valdez, which is known as the snowiest place in the state. In the area, high snowfall rates and dry, blowing snow routinely create whiteout conditions and zero visibility. 

Because of the system's initial success, the state of Alaska subsequently ordered three new driver-assist systems as well as two upgrade kits for the original plows. In the summer of 2011, Institute staff traveled to Alaska to upgrade the two original vehicles and to install the driver-assist system in three new snow-removal machines (two plows and one blower). Now, one truck focuses on clearing snow in Valdez and about halfway to Thompson Pass on Richardson Highway, and the other vehicles cover the pass and remaining distance between it and Valdez.

Research Projects