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Haslam Students, ORNL and City of Knoxville Implement New Road Treatment for Winter Weather

January 2, 2019

When snow falls this winter, a new technology designed for brine trucks will be in service along Knoxville’s roadways thanks to a collaboration between the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Haslam College of Business, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Public Service Department of the City of Knoxville.

Designed to more efficiently and effectively regulate brine distribution on the road, the approach features a variable control mechanism that optimizes the amount of de-icing agent (brine) applied to roads. The technique minimizes waste and increases available supply as roads are treated.

The three-component prototype will use a tablet to read LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) data along with AVL (Automatic Vehicle Location) speed detection data to determine the amount of brine to use. That tablet will communicate with the actual equipment attached to the truck, which will regulate the amount of brine distributed by electronic solenoid valves.

In areas that LiDAR data has identified as greater risks for ice – for example, stretches of road that are shady or where there are changes in topography – the device will increase the amount of road treatment. When snow trucks travel lower than 30 mph, the optimal brine distribution speed, the device will calculate and reduce the amount of brine to avoid excessive treatment.

Students enrolled in Innovation and New Product Development, a course taught by Professor Ernie Cadotte, evaluated the LiDAR data, then added AVL data to form the device’s software.

Selin Anitsal, a marketing and entrepreneurship senior, says the partnership with Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the City of Knoxville was highly productive.

“The objective was to find a way to use this technology and understand how an organization like the City of Knoxville can use it,” Anitsal says. “That meant really working on the design of the whole brine distribution system itself.”

Olufemi “Femi” Omitaomu, of the Computational Sciences and Engineering Division at ORNL, created the software that determines the amount of snow and ice risk along every road in Knoxville. His work enabled the team to develop the road treatment system.

“Across the United States, cities are collectively spending about $1.5 billion on winter road maintenance,” Omitaomu says. “With City of Knoxville road data, we developed a successful laboratory prototype, and we’re pleased to collaborate with the city and with Haslam in scaling up and applying this novel approach in a real-world scenario. Our goal is to give cities like Knoxville an intelligent approach to managing their resources effectively.”

LiDAR surveying relies on ultraviolet, near visible or infrared light to image objects such as rocks via satellite. In this application, for example, LiDAR was able to show which city streets will be most or least susceptible to snow and ice.

Tony Jarmusz, an outbound logistics manager at Radio Systems Corporation in Knoxville, worked with the team of four Haslam students on the technology.

“It’s been great,” Jarmusz says. “They were faced with a very hard project, and they tackled it head-on. They learned about working with third parties, working with a budget and actually procuring a product. Their involvement has been 100 percent.”

Jarmis’s team of students included Anitsal, Andrew Elmlinger, Alicia Bauman and Tucker Youngblood.