Software Nerd

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Snow plowing

Today, we had a surprise March snow -- enough to close schools and make 10 year olds beam. While doing the driveway, I was thinking of a Burt Rutan speech. He says that space travel has been slow because the government has handled it. An integration slipped into place: street snow-plowing is just "okay-ish", with little innovation over the decades. It is likely because most street-plowing is done by government or contracted out by government.

A couple of years ago, I had a little idea about improving snow-plowing of streets (post is below). It's an abstract idea; but, imagine someone could made an invention along these lines. Since it does not address costs, but addresses quality of service, he'd have a harder time selling the idea.

Newer sub-divisions often handle their own snow-plowing, by contracting it out. So, that's a good market: a contracting company that can say, "If you use us, we'll leave your driveways clear!" Some of the richer cities might like the idea too: "when you buy your next snow-truck, buy our intelligent version"!! However, to the extent that city governments handle snow-plowing, that puts a damper on innovation in that little area.

=================The Feb 2006 post =================

Pictured here is a typical snow-truck that clears the roads.

Residents of winter states know what happens when the snow-truck has gone through the neighborhood. The pile of snow that now lines both sides of the street also blocks your driveway. This is an inconvenience. Often, one has cleaned the driveway and left for work. One returns to a little pile of snow across the entrance to the driveway. If you drive over it, it ices up.

Now, consider this snow-blower truck, typically used at airports. Rather than pushing the snow a little to the side, it blows it, much like a vacuum cleaner ... much like the snow-blowers folks use on their driveways. It's probably more expensive than a regular snow-truck. Won't work in neighborhoods and regular streets, because the snow will be blown where you don't want it.

Now consider this.
Step 1: Take the snow-blower truck and make the blower less powerful: more like a "snow dropper", just powerful enough to lift the snow into a small repository, from where it is immediately deposited at the side of the truck. The net-effect would be similar to the snow-truck: a line of snow piled by the side of the road.

Step 2: Now, add the ability to pause the "dropping" for short durations. Assume the snow receptacle can hold enough to allow it to be paused for a few yards at a time. Now, all we need is a way to pause it at the right places: like in front of my driveway :)

Step 3: If ought not to be too hard or expensive to have a device that uses some kind of beam pointed a little ahead and a little to the side of the truck, detecting the presence of grass/mud versus driveway asphalt/concrete. Get this to work reasonably well, and one has the control mechanism for the "dropper".

The net result is a slightly tall pile along the streets, except at the driveway entrances, where there's none.

Further Improvement: In some neighborhoods, it would be better to detect cars parked by the side of the road, and deal with that too.



  • Hm. What about putting heating tubes under the road? I like THAT idea! Wish I could afford it for my driveway?

    How much do you think this would cost compared to years of snowblowing or plowing?

    By Blogger Monica, at 1:41 PM  

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