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AMES, Iowa — When snowplow drivers are out clearing the roads during winter storms, they don’t always have the best view.

“When it gets really snowy and blowing and you can hardly see the hood of your car out the windshield, it becomes really difficult for us to continue operations because we can’t see where we’re going,” Tina Greenfield, the road weather coordinator for Iowa DOT, said.

That’s why the Iowa DOT tasked researchers at Iowa State University to develop a navigation system to help operators stay on the roads when conditions are poor.

“We’re trying to use technology to act as our eyes when otherwise we can’t use them,” Greenfield said.

What that system will exactly look like within the snowplow is still unknown.

“So there’s one side where we are looking at the technology that can be used and what are the noises we have to work with,” Anuj Sharma, a research scientist with Iowa State’s Institute for Transportation, said. “The second thing is how do we provide this information back to the travelers because they are already operating under very stressful conditions.”

This winter, the research team is starting to collect data to understand how inclement weather will impact the technologies. In the future, different operators will test out the system in simulations and eventually on the road to see how it will work. 

“I think snowplow drivers are the best judge of how the system should look rather than us fencing up something which is futuristic,” Sharma said. “It should be simple and it should work.”

The Iowa DOT says the research is an 18-month project that is federally funded.