‘Snowbots’ could be paving way for hands-free shoveling

(CNN/WCCO)

MINNEAPOLIS (CNN/WCCO) — It’s been days since Minnesotans have seen any snowfall, but sooner or later the shovels and plows will have to come out. Most accept the back-breaking chore as part of Minnesota winters, but what if there was a way to remove the snow without any of the physical labor? Some college students are working to make that happen.

There’s the old-fashioned approach to snow removal, and then there’s the value of a hands-free snow plow.

“You have a foot of snow in your driveway, you might go shovel for a while,” said EJ Daigle, with Dunwoody College.

It’s why Daigle and his team of Dunwoody College students are among the competitors in the Autonomous Snowplow Contest.

“It’s a tough competition — a lot of good people, a lot of smart people on these teams,” said Daigle.

Never has so much thought been put into clearing a driveway. One team says it spent 300 hours on their snowbot. These college teams use math, science and engineering skills to follow the guiding rule that the machine must be hands-free.

“We have all our sensors inside there,” said North Dakota State University graduate student Andy Narvesen. “The laser bounces on an obstacle and bounces back; we know there’s something there.”

From there, each snow plow is a showcase of design and innovation.

“We have a lot of power on our robot; it can clear a lot of snow,” said Narvesen. “We thought that would help win the competition to get the snow cleared.”

For Daigle’s team, the hope is success lies in its simplicity.

“We’re using a magnetic track that could be imbedded in the sidewalk and the plow will follow that without seeing the magnets.”

Like any competition, bragging rights are on the line, but these students know they may be paving a new path for the future of snow removal.

“You could wake up in the morning and rather than have to shovel snow, grab a cup of coffee and hit a button in the garage and this thing would do it for you,” said Daigle.

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