The winter road maintenance domain claims a huge demand of trustworthy but cost-effective technologies allowing for an automatic control of the professional equipment (i.e. snow ploughs, salt spreaders), then optimizing the operations - in terms of effectiveness, timeliness, safety and costs - but avoiding as much as possible any manual intervention of the driver while driving the vehicle.
The ASSIST Feasibility Study intends to investigate a suite of potential high-end innovative services aiming to support the execution of winter road maintenance (in different operational scenarios, e.g. snow ploughing and road icing control) and also to provide an effective assistance to the drivers involved in these activities (through comprehensive information about the “context” in which he/she is operating, including proper and timely alerts) as well as the management overseeing the operations.
These services are enabled by a robust and accurate real-time positioning of the vehicles - based on satellite navigation, e.g. GPS and Galileo - and by road geometry information (e.g. boundaries, centreline, width, slope) and road weather forecast - through integrating Earth Observation with in-situ technologies -, all complemented by a flexible and scalable middleware based on cloud computing technologies.
Users and their needs
The ASSIST users are the winter road maintenance operators, that is the public/private organization actually in charge of performing all the winter maintenance activities (i.e. snow ploughing and road icing control) along a roads network. These users are also the potential ASSIST customers, that pay both for the professional equipment (snow ploughs and salt spreaders) to be installed on their own trucks and for the on-board unit controlling the equipment and enabling a suite of advanced services, with the aim to be properly prepared to carry out the foreseen winter maintenance activities.
Public administration, their public/private contractors as well as concessionaire companies (operating motorways) are then the major ASSIST users.
Two Nordic public administrations (the Swedish Transport Administration and the Norwegian Public Roads Administration) are engaged by ESA in the Feasibility Study: additional users and stakeholders at European level have been contacted providing their commitment to be part of the Feasibility Study.
In accordance with the three major operational scenarios for the winter maintenance, the goal is to realize an ICT support system able to adapt winter maintenance treatment according to the context information and actual road conditions in order to:
- Reduce the workload for the driver, thereby increasing her/his safety conditions;
- Reduce the environmental impact ny spreading the right amount of chemicals in the right place and at the right time;
- Provide mission assistance especially in darkness or bad visibility and in large open areas with drifting snow;
- Reduce the damages to the road attributes and road surface may occur with snow plough;
Save material, reduce costs and optimize the operations to improve the road safety.
Service/ system concept
The architectural design goes in direction to realize an end-to-end solution taking advantages on the space assets domain for advanced winter service provisioning. ASSIST strategy proposed to build up a high fidelity and updated model of the road to clear collecting information (in particular Earth Observation and Weather Forecasts) acquired by external service providers in a cloud-computing platform (called Winter Service Middleware). Such model allows evaluating analytically the geo localized work parameters (both in terms of salt spreading and snow plough control) in order to maximize the effectiveness of the winter maintenance treatment. The application of such parameters is in charge to a NAV\COM intelligent device mounted on the truck (called On Board Unit (OBU)) that is able to automatically control the mechanical equipment for the effective actuation. From OBU perspective, the correct application of the working settings relies on the tightly coupled GNSS/INS integration algorithm (based on low cost components), that ensuring a precise and reliable truck positioning.
Thanks to the conceived intelligent system architecture, ASSIST solution integrates additional function blocks (e.g. tracking\telemetry of the trucks, Intelligent Device Management) that permits to provide a comprehensive support to the overall winter maintenance activity.
Space Added Value
The baseline of the satellite navigation solution proposed in ASSIST includes:
- Full support of the multi-constellation GNSS receiver;
- Support of a centralized augmentation middleware;
- Integrity and protection level computation;
- Support of a tight integration between the GNSS receiver and low Costs IMU;
- Integration in the OBU of high resolution road databases.
Moreover, the proposed ASSIST services rely on high resolution images from Earth Observation (EO) satellite, Geographic Information System (GIS) and meteorological modeling technologies. ASSIST OBU system proposed relies on these technologies to:
- Provide and integrate available road centreline network data with road boundary line and other sealed surfaces;
- Provide and integrate weather forecasts and snow information on road level.
A proper winter maintenance process can bring important social benefits such as reducing costs for the community (both direct and indirect), reducing the environmental impact and increasing the safety on the roads. In particular, about accidents reduction, it is known that well-done, timely treatments can significantly decrease fatal injuries. The accident rate increases rapidly with the beginning of the snow events on high-speed roads, but after the execution of winter maintenance procedures it drops rapidly.
The need for innovative snow and ice control processes has continued to grow, since national and European road networks have been substantially developed over recent decades. The demand for improvement continues to be driven by the increasing need of safety and efficiency in national and international road freight and passenger transport.
The importance of winter road maintenance is also due to the magnitude of the expenditures associated to these operations and to the indirect costs resulting from the loss of productivity and decreased mobility. In the United States alone these operations consume over $2 billion yearly indirect costs.
The proposed architecture takes advantage of mature components – being results of previous projects (i.e. GOLDEN-ICE or GOLDEN-INFRA) or even COTS - providing then a high readiness level in terms of both technologies and services. The architecture is also designed to enable different service levels - exploiting the flexible and scalable backend based on cloud computing technologies -, resulting then in a viable platform where different patterns of user requirements could be satisfied.
The result of the use of leading edge technologies and of several standards is an end-to-end concept designed to be extensible with additional services, allowing an easy integration of pre-existing solutions and external systems that can be connected to the winter services middleware (e.g. road and traffic management systems). Such architecture leads to the possibility to have different services level according to the resources that can be integrated. In particular it could be useful to present some examples of this philosophy that will be fully developed in the feasibility study:
- The baseline for the positioning augmentation is the use of EGNOS/EDAS, but by means of integration of more precise and expensive local area correction solutions, a more precise system can be achieved;
- The integration of digital information, for an enhanced assistance to the drivers, can be obtained through Earth Observation or leveraging on external data. As per the navigation corrections, there is the possibility to have different performances with respect to different investment capabilities;
- Data collection, aggregation and processing in a cloud-based environment supports the management during decision making process and analysis a posteriori of the ended intervention.
A key element that will be assessed during the feasibility study is the On-Board Unit (OBU) that is also the primary interface towards the operators in the field.
According to a preliminary analysis done by the experts within the consortium, major scenarios which winter road maintenance operations have to face with are:
- Snow ploughing, that is clearing snow from roads by means of vehicles equipped with snow ploughs typically placed on the front of the vehicle but additional side ploughs can be used to increase the clearing width;
- Road icing control, that is anti-icing action (e.g., prior to snowfalls) and de-icing action by spreading chemicals on the road surface, aiming to prevent the bond forming between the ice and the road surface;
- Re-opening of mountain passes: it means removing a huge amount of snow from mountain roads (because they are closed for a long period during winter time) by means of vehicles equipped with snow blowers.
Airport maintenance: Such scenario deals with the clearance of the landing field within airport. During winter season (in particular in North Europe), the airport might be blocked due to harsh weather conditions, flights cancelled or delayed with domino effects on the entire airport network and consequently inconveniences for the passengers.
The ASSIST Feasibility Study has been concluded in May 2015. A suite of innovative space-based “assistance services” in supporting the major operational scenarios for the winter maintenance (i.e. snow ploughing and road icing control) has been deeply investigated with positive results. The technical feasibility and the users’ acceptance of such services have been assessed through an actual Proof of Concept that took place in the 2014-2015 winter season as an extensive field test campaign in Sweden and a showcase in Norway, with a direct and active involvement of two Nordic public administration and their contractors.
The viability analysis performed during the Feasibility Study confirmed the ASSIST potential, showing benefits coming from its adoption for all key actors of the winter maintenance value chain. The ten years business plan also showed clear opportunities for all partners, especially for Giletta S.p.A. as equipment manufacturer acting as “ASSIST service provider”.
Following the positive feedback on both the technical feasibility and the market attractiveness, almost the same partnership is now fully committed in proposing a 24-month Demonstration Project in sight of the roll out of full operational “assistance services”.