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January 7, 2008
By Brandon Stewart
University of Nevada, Reno mechanical engineers are conducting research for the Nevada Department of Transportation aimed at improving the visibility of both snowplow vehicles and drivers that could enhance road safety for northern Nevada drivers. Mechanical engineering professors Cahit Evrensel, Yanyao Jiang, Kwang Kim and their research team recently completed the first phase of the project with one plow in Elko, one in the Carson Valley and one primarily working the Mount Rose Highway. "Current plows have some inherent problems with blowing snow and dramatic conditions which we think can be greatly abated by several mechanical improvements," Evrensel said. "We added an airfoil on top of the sander and a taillight puffer to improve visibility of the snowplow and protect other vehicles on the road. We're also working on a blower system and transparent splash barriers." The airfoil has performed well in preliminary tests and prevents snow from gathering on the equipment on the back of the plow to keep the lights visible for drivers behind it. The researchers also installed a taillight puffer system with high pressure nozzles by the plow's taillights as an alternative system to keep the lights clean and visible for others on the road. Other systems that are being developed include: a blower that can decrease the density of the falling snow in front of the truck, some transparent barriers on the front part of the plow to prevent the plowed snow from hitting the drivers' windshields and another for the side window designed by the NDOT Elko group. "We have some more testing to do, but we feel these improvements can make an important difference in snowplow safety and efficiency," Evrensel added. Research on the project last year was somewhat inhibited by the lack of snowstorms, so Nevada researchers hope this weekend's storm is some indication there will be plenty of time for testing this season. This is just one of several research engineering projects the NDOT and the University are currently working on together. "NDOT is keenly interested in improvements that benefit the public and the worker," said the agency's assistant district engineer Tracy Larkin-Thomason. "We also need to insure that any improvement does not adversely affect another aspect of the operation. We have high hopes for some of the proposed improvements." "This is excellent real world experience for our graduate students who developed these models," Evrensel said. "Onur Dur, Xiaowei "Arthur" Hu and Kurn Ma deserve a lot of the credit."