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Solving a Problem With Data: Researchers Build System to Protect Roads in the Spring

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A wintry road.

Researchers are using near-real-time data collection to show how states can better protect their roads from heavy vehicles at the end of winter.

Credit: Shutterstock

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth led by Heather Miller are using near-real-time data collection to demonstrate how states can improve their ability to protect brittle roads from heavy vehicles at the end of winter.

The team connected underground temperature-measuring sensors in Maine to transmitters, enabling them to collect data via a satellite link. They then constructed an online platform in which they, along with the state, can monitor twice-daily updates on the thaw. Air temperature data from Weather Underground also was fed into the system, and the resulting decision-making tool can predict when Maine will need to impose a seasonal load restriction as well as when it can lift the restriction.

The sensors' connectivity system is being further upgraded by University of Massachusetts professor Paul Fortier so radio-frequency identification can be used to facilitate data collection by short-range devices instead of a direct connection.

"Our goal is to expand [the dashboard] pretty much to all the northern states," notes Dartmouth associate dean Ramprasad Balasubramanian.

Miller also believes the researchers' sensor stations, and future systems set up for the same purpose in other regions, could be used to supplement the findings of weather-based programs.

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