Guest Column | December 28, 2021

How Snow Removal Operations Benefit From Telematics And The IoT

By Emily Newton, Revolutionized


Snow removal planning is a significant part of keeping towns and cities operational after winter weather events. Today’s plows are more advanced than you might initially realize. That’s because many of them have Internet of Things (IoT) technology.

The associated connectivity can show fleet managers valuable telematics statistics about a snowplow’s condition and average productivity. Some models can even remove snow with limited human intervention. Here’s a closer look at how smart snow removal technologies could promote safety, mobility, and increased plow uptime during the winter.

Plow Telematics Support Better Resource Deployment

Vehicle telematics technology can gather useful statistics ranging from the total number of miles traveled to the minutes spent in motion versus idling. Although telematics solutions are currently more widely deployed on vehicles in other types of fleets, such as long-distance vehicles, there are also compelling reasons to use them in snowplowing operations.

In one academic paper profiling connected snowplows used by the Indiana Department of Transportation, representatives wanted to see if onboard telematics could improve the existing system. It involved having vehicle operators communicate with radios to keep each other abreast of which areas needed attention.

This project collected almost 13 million location records as well as 11 million dashboard-camera images from the plows. Additionally, the paper’s authors focused on data collected by 610 trucks traveling nearly 1,570 miles during a winter storm in February 2021.

The conclusions showed that this system-wide tech deployment brought several short-term and long-term advantages. Firstly, it allowed tactical tweaks during storms so that decision makers better allocate on-the-ground resources.

Additionally, the telematics data allowed people at the organization to look at data across multiple seasons. They could then see the information in context and use those insights to accommodate upcoming needs. Finally, this approach facilitated information distribution via traditional and social media outlets, keeping people updated about snowplowing progress.

IoT Snowplows Prevent Coverage Gaps

Perhaps you can recall instances of living in a place hit by a blizzard and waiting much longer than expected to have the area cleared. As someone who works in fleet management, you probably use various strategies to avoid such instances happening to people in your service area.

Tools that show the real-time locations of snowplowing equipment can help. Such options are also advantageous if you use various vehicles to clear the effects of the winter weather and want to track where each type is at any moment.

For example, skid steer loaders are some of the most widely used machines to remove snow. They maneuver well in tight spaces and you can get numerous attachments to make the job easier. Using a snowblower attachment on a skid steer loader is a practical way to make progress without damaging the ground underneath.

Some products can show the real-time locations of snow-removal equipment, providing different icons to designate whether a currently used vehicle is a traditional snowplow or a pickup truck with a plow attachment.

Moreover, a color-coded system shows people at a glance whether plowing operators have or have not visited a street, plus when they are in the process of removing the snow. Another advantage is that people who work with this data can create versions of apps for an area’s residents, plus internal use by an organization. Then, everyone has the information needed to stay abreast of snow removal statuses.

Connected Snowplows Support Safety

Snowstorms can be particularly treacherous for vulnerable groups, including older people and individuals with physical disabilities. However, they’re also potentially dangerous to all pedestrians.

In Ottawa, Canada, 32,000 people list walking as their main method of travel. However, people who live there also have discussed how snow removal strategies were inadequate for anyone traveling on foot, and especially anyone older or who has balance difficulties. Some residents even recommended getting shoe attachments with spiky bottoms that give better traction in slick conditions.

Those accessories could certainly help, but so would improving plans for snow removal. One IoT possibility came from a company called SnowM. The business, now called Stratosfy, has since pivoted away from snowplowing and into commercial cleaning.

However, one of its previously developed technologies highlights how the IoT could ensure areas with high-risk residents get scheduled for priority plowing. The company created property markers that sent signals to snowplow operators as they neared a residence that still needed snow removal.

That system prevented properties from getting missed. Also, a fleet manager might refer to a database or map of all the marked locations, using it to inform a resident when to expect the snow-clearing to occur. Doing that sets expectations and helps a person rest assured the plows have not yet come to where they live.

Snow Removal Technology Can Keep Productivity Levels High

When transportation departments plan their snowplow operations, meteorological data plays a substantial role in their decisions. Meteorologists are essential because they study six specific weather aspects and make predictions that could impact life, infrastructure, and more.

Their conclusions give insights into whether a winter storm will likely hit a location hard, pass it with no effect, or do something in between. Those insights substantially impact how people prepare, whether they’re everyday residents or individuals directly involved in maintaining safe streets after snowstorms hit.

The Canadian city of Kingston launched a snow-removal initiative in 2020 that supported the location’s overarching smart city goals. It also raised fleet productivity and helped residents plan their days.

More specifically, plow telematics used in Kingston indicates the snow-removal equipment’s speed, idle time, and location. The technology also shows when a street was last plowed and where plows are currently operating. The city has 29 machines to clear roads and 16 for sidewalk work.

Residents have previously complained that removal happens too slowly. However, the connected machinery could change that by giving operators and fleet managers better visibility. They can then ensure they use the available plowing time effectively. Additionally, since people living in the area can see real-time plowing progress, they can plan when to leave home and make the most of their time away.

IoT Snowplows Assist With The Labor Shortage

Some departments that oversee snow removal are experiencing staffing shortages, particularly as representatives look for people to operate snowplows and trucks that put salt on roads. For example, six states hope to hire at least 100 people each to make up the deficit.

IoT technology could be useful for addressing this problem, mainly if the associated solutions involve robotics. One Canadian city used an autonomous snowplow to clear trails. The robot could handle 25 kilometers on every tank of fuel.

The machine also has various safety and navigation features that help it move safely while a human oversees the progress via a mobile app. The snowplow is accurate enough to go within 2 centimeters of its programmed route.

Since the piece of equipment also can cut grass, the parties who approved purchasing it will likely see a year-round return on investment. Robots cannot close the labor shortage gap in every instance. However, this example emphasizes the real-world possibilities.

Snow Removal Made Simpler

Clearing an area after a snowfall is a major undertaking, even with technology to help. However, this overview gives a broad perspective of how it could pay off to bring the IoT into snow-removal efforts.

About The Author

Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized. She regularly explores the impact technology has on the industrial sector.