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Key ways real-time data collection is changing winter road management

Mobile data collection is rapidly changing the way transportation departments approach winter road management. New sensors and software are making real-time data collection an integral part of an efficient, effective, and safety-focused treatment strategy. In this post, we’ll take a look at critical ways this technology is enhancing your ability to manage winter road conditions and what you should do about it.

New sensors have enabled the move to mobile

All DOT’s incorporate weather data into their winter road management systems. While fixed weather stations are most common, the ability to utilize mobile sensors to collect the data is becoming more popular. New, mobile-focused systems feature a wide array of sensors that can collect metrics that were previously impossible to capture. The sensors are mounted to patrol vehicles or snow plows and then configured to collect specific data sets as they run their routes.

New metrics collected by mobile sensors

When it comes to gathering information that will impact decisions around treatment recommendations, mobile weather data sensors capture exponentially more relevant, accurate, and timely data than the methods used in the past.

The Federal Highway Administration recommends that there is a Road Weather Information System (RWIS) every 30 miles, but along that long stretch of road, conditions can change quickly. Vehicles equipped with mobile weather data sensors capture data in real-time across virtually every inch of driven road.

These sensors collect key decision-making information about pavement temperature and the overall state of the roads. They identify the precise type of contaminant (snow, water, ice, slush) and in what amounts they’re covering the pavement. They can also derive a coefficient of friction and determine the level of grip based on the contaminant.

Once the road condition data is combined with the atmospheric metrics, including air temperature, relative humidity, visibility, precipitation type and rate, and barometric pressure, there is decidedly a much clearer picture of the current conditions and the necessary data to more accurately recommend an effective treatment strategy.

Accessing the data

While the collection of information has become easier, questions of how to access the data, and what to do with it once you have it, are becoming more pressing. A common problem with mobile data collection involves how to transmit and access the data once it’s been captured.

Waiting for patrol vehicles to return before manually downloading the data is cumbersome and ineffective. New mobile systems use a wireless modem to enable mobile access of the data from the sensors in real-time. While this is a critical feature, propriety data formats and fixed delivery options cause bottlenecks and inefficiencies. Relying on custom software from the manufacturer for each sensor removes many of the benefits of capturing the data in real-time.

The good news is that new software solutions, such as Applied Information’s Glance, are actively solving these problems. The ideal solution is to have a system that captures and translates the data from multiple sensors into a single feed that seamlessly incorporates with your central system software.

Incorporating real-time weather data into an MDSS

Many organizations utilize a maintenance decisions support system (MDSS) platform to provide a road maintenance strategy. These systems combine RWIS data and forecast data to provide pavement treatment recommendations.

MDSS providers recognize the advancements in technology and are eager to integrate mobile weather data into their platforms. More and more of these systems are integrating with mobile weather sensors so the MDSS can become smarter and provide better recommendations. The mobile weather data is typically made available to a third party via an API where a provider, such as Applied Information, can capture it and export it to the central software.

Converting the data into actionable information

Today, traffic organizations are using data from real-time mobile weather sensors in a number of different ways. For example, measuring pre-storm conditions, such as the pavement temperatures, in real-time will significantly affect the maintenance plan. Current condition measurements combined with pavement forecasts will determine the most effective treatment recommendation as storms progress.

After a storm and once a road treatment is complete, the mobile units are often used to retrace the same roads and bridges to assess their condition and determine if further maintenance is needed.

In addition to diagnosing the actual condition of the roadways, the real-time data is used to specify the amount of chemicals that are being used on the roads. Cities with a limited number of supplies or plows can now get more from the resources they possess. As a result, these collection systems conserve resources, while helping you make better use of your budget.

Planning for the future

In addition to making winter road management more effective, the real-time collection of data will play an increasingly important rule in the future. New self driving technology and connected vehicle applications, such as TravelSafely, will soon be able to capture and display the road status data.

Having the data available means you can communicate accurate and up-to-the-minute road information to motorists. This is a tremendous feature for citizens that will become more and more prevalent as technology continues to advance.

The bottom line is that real-time, mobile data collection is here to stay for winter road management. In the past, an RWIS station might have been sufficient, but the future will be in real-time.

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