Deployment of a Snowplow Driver-Assist System
Brian Davis, Katelyn Schwieters, Nichole Morris, Max Donath
Report no. MnDOT 2023-27
Snowplow operators are often tasked with clearing snow from roadways under challenging conditions. One such situation is low visibility due to falling or blowing snow that makes it difficult to navigate, stay centered in the lane, and identify upcoming hazards. To support snowplow operators working in these conditions, University of Minnesota researchers developed a snowplow driver-assist system that provides the operator with visual and auditory information that is suitable for low-visibility situations. A lane-guidance system uses high-accuracy Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) and maps of the roadway to provide information to drivers about their lateral positions. A forward-obstacle-detection system uses forward-facing radar to detect potential hazards in the roadway. The design of the system, and in particular its interface, is guided by extensive user testing to ensure the system is easy to understand, easy to use, and well liked among its users.
The system was deployed in two phases over the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 winter seasons. In total, nine systems were deployed on snowplows across Minnesota, four in the first winter season and an additional five in the second. Participating truck stations represented all eight MnDOT districts as well as Dakota County. Over the course of the deployment, additional user feedback was collected to identify system strengths and areas for improvement. The system was found to be a cost-effective addition to snowplows that increase driver safety, reduce plow downtime, and increase driver efficacy for plowing operations, thus providing support to operators working in demanding, low-visibility conditions.