With the US East Coast digging out from yet another snowstorm in a year-long march of wintry weather, even the most stalwart residents are suffering from snow overdose, leading them to wonder: WHERE ARE OUR SNO-BOTS?
Robotics(1) is already mature enough to build huge robots, capable of building cars, to miniaturized robots, capable of assisting in human surgery and everything in between. Mobile robots are even used in some manufacturing sites to build and package goods while transporting them to the loading dock.
Everyone is familiar with the Mars Rover. If engineers can put a robot on Mars, a pretty inhospitable environment, to explore the surface, drill for geologic samples, and conduct experiments … well, where are our Sno-bots? What could be more inhospitable than 2+ feet of delicate, beautiful, no-two-alike ice crystals—with perhaps some road-sand and -salt thrown in for good measure?
A snow-thrower on steroids?
Yes. For custom snow removal on pathways and driveways, for example, stakes equipped with RF tags could be pre-placed in patterns to target areas to be cleared. Using specialized software and sensors–both optical and RF–the robotic snow-thrower could operate on treads to provide adequate traction over less than stable terrain. Sporting a traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) or hybrid system, it would be heavy enough to plow through inches of snow at a time. And borrowing a lesson from automated vacuums, (2), it could be programmed to automatically return to a fuel replenishing or charging station in the home garage or patio after use. And it would be easy to give the home owner a direct view of its operations via a smartphone, laptop, or pc.
Operating safety would necessarily come first. Our Sno-bot would necessarily be equipped with layer upon layer of security and safety features, both electronic and mechanical. If a table saw can be equipped with a safe stop(3) mechanism, our robotic snow-thrower could employ something similar.
Guided by vision sensors, proximity sensors, remote control, Wi-Fi networking, or traveling between RF-tagged areas, automated-guided-vehicles (AGVs) are already in use at manufacturing sites. Our fictitious snow removal AGV would benefit from sensor hubs—sensors and microprocessors, robust power management, and wireless connectivity—all industry-proven and available today from STMicroelectronics, by the way–in a similar fashion.
So c’mon folks, don’t you want to remain nice and warm and safe from the vicissitudes of winter’s worst weather while your Sno-bot churns away at the accumulation of the white stuff in your driveway? Someone, please, invent this thing…