Minnesota testing smart plows; sensors will transmit road condition info

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Not to brag, but here in Minnesota we have some of America's smartest snowplows.

We're one of four states where transportation officials this winter are testing plows equipped with sensors that transmit real-time data about road conditions, the Associated Press reports. The measurements will be combined with information from satellite, radar, and weather models in hopes of improving safety and saving on maintenance costs, the AP says.

The Enhanced Maintenance Decision Support System (EMDSS) was built by the National Center for Atmospheric Research. The Center notes that the ground-based observation stations states now use can be up to 60 miles apart and officials are left to estimate the conditions between those stations. Now, measurements from the plows will be coded with a location and time and transmitted to an NCAR database.

The system is also being tested in Michigan, Nevada, and on New York's Long Island. If things go well, it will be more widely available to other states next winter, NCAR says.

Those four states are not the only ones experimenting with new tools to improve winter road safety. An article in Heavy Duty Trucking offers an overview of what states are trying. Some highlights: Tennessee is using a "Magic Salt," made from potato juice, to melt ice at lower temperatures. Alaska is equipping plows with "icebreakers," which are steel drums with spikes to break up ice. And Utah is expanding a system of solar-powered cameras that stream video of mountain passes and other remote areas.

What did we do before all this technology arrived? The Atlantic offers a look back.

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