ISU student research project considered for use
in D-5 winter maintenance decisions

The application of highway treatments before and during storm events largely is based on data captured at nearly 100 Road Weather Information Sites (RWIS) sites throughout the state.

Maintenance crews interpret the data and determine the specific highway treatments, when to apply them and how much to apply. Idaho State University senior Jake Kopplow wants to remove much of the subjective part of the decision-making process and replace it with an automated system. Kopplow has been working for ITD as an hourly employee who has been selected to enter the department's Engineering In Training in Lewiston this spring,

Kopplow analyzed District 5’s application of deicers, sand and brine as an ISU research project but expanded the scope to include use of the Cirus Controller. The electronic component will recommend the appropriate spread rates for material used in clearing area highways, explains D-5 maintenance engineer Wayne Curtis.

The controller unit was attached to a truck that Curtis and District Engineer Ed Bala informally christened “Robotruck.”

Kopplow said the ultimate goal is a marriage of technologies to “apply the precise solution for any given weather conditions without over- or under-applying. This should accomplish the target goal of providing the safest travel while doing so in the most economically responsible manner.”

The Cirus Controller has been installed on a truck with payloads of about 10 tons of salt and the capacity to add brine to the salt as a pre-wetting agent. That should improve adhesion to the pavement and increase highway safety for travelers.

Still in its infancy, the innovative program has the potential to improve efficiency and effectiveness and reduce winter maintenance costs.

The controller can be programmed with six material combinations, allowing the it to determine the solution that is best for highway based on information from the highway sensors already mounted on the truck.

“Eventually, we would like to see the Cirus Controller integrated with RWIS site downloads to provide a complete weather picture and make the application even more precise,” Curtis said.

“We’re excited to develop Jake’s project into a passive system that makes deicing decisions much more simple for our plow operators. They will use an algorithm to determine material types and application rates.

“The combination of Jake’s research and the technologically advanced controller someday could fully automate the decision-making process so only the correct materials and quantities of those materials are applied, given specific storm conditions.

“We will continue to follow the progress of this research and offer updates as they become available,” Curtis said.

Published 3-8-13