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Heavy storms in January were a blessing to University of Nevada, Reno mechanical engineers researching how to improve the visibility of both snow plow drivers and drivers near the snow plows for the Nevada Department of Transportation.
Although the project began last year, researchers weren’t able to get much data because of the limited snowfall.
This year was a different story.
“This was a better year for testing,” said NDOT assistant district engineer Tracy Larkin-Thomason. “This has been going on since last season but there wasn’t enough snow to do a comprehensive evaluation.”
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The heavy snowfall allowed the engineers and NDOT to complete phase one of the project which involved adding an airfoil, or a small wing, to the top of the sander of the snowplow.
The airfoil is combined with an airpuffer near the taillights to help increase visibility.
“We will be looking into different types of foils,” said mechanical engineering professor Cahit Evrensel. “We are looking into using high speed air to push the falling snow in front of the snowplow to increase visibility of the driver.”
The project began as a proposal from NDOT, Evrensel said.
“They asked us if there was a way we could help them and we looked into different problems they had,” he said. “I took my students twice and went to the mountain to see first hand what those people are seeing.”
Visibility for the snowplow’s driver and for other vehicles on the road are of primary importance, said Thor Dyson, a logistics engineer for NDOT.
“We’re looking for anyway to improve safety and to improve the visibility of our plows,” Dyson said. “All we need is one person to rear end the plow and the plow is down.”
Evrensel is working with a team of researchers including UNR professors Yanyao Jiang, Kwang Kim.
Two plows have been tested as part of the project, one on Mt. Rose Highway and one in Elko, Nev.
The next phase of the testing involves using different kinds of high pressured air to decrease the density of the snow around the snowplow.
So far, NDOT has been pleased with the results of the test, Larkin-Thomason said.
“Our plow drivers have noticed an improvement,” she said.
If the project produces a successful prototype, Larkin-Thomason said NDOT could begin installing the modifications as soon as next year.
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