The EU-funded 'Golden Ice' project has demonstrated a new EGNOS-guided system for safer, more economical and more ecologically responsible salt distribution on winter roads.
"We know that salt is still the right solution," said Mauro Mattio of Italy's SAET, coordinator of the Golden Ice project. "Statistics show clearly that accidents can be prevented and lives saved on icy roads in the hours following salt treatment. But the question is how to optimise the use of salt, making sure that we apply it in the right place, in the right amount and at the right time."
Speaking along with Mattio at the final project demonstration in Prague, Golden Ice technical coordinator Fabrizio Domeneci explained, "Our new onboard unit allows us to use GPS navigation signals, augmented by EGNOS and EDAS, to track our salt-spreading vehicles at all times and to control the amount of salt being applied in a very precise way, based on real weather conditions and specific road morphology. In the future it will work the same way with Galileo."
What is EDAS?
EDAS (EGNOS Data Access Service) offers ground-based access to EGNOS data over the internet, via home or office based computers, or on mobile communication devices. EDAS is the single point of access for the data collected and generated by the EGNOS infrastructure, providing both raw GPS, GLONASS and EGNOS navigation data, and EGNOS augmentation messages, just like users of the direct EGNOS satellite signal.
Getting the mix right
Putting down the right amount of salt on an icy road is no easy matter. While the correct amount can be calculated according to known formulas, the application of those formulas, until now, has always been in human hands.
"Based on my own personal experience, I believe we put too much salt on our roads," said Arvel CEO Enzo Giletta, "I have been in a lot of these vehicles and I've watched how our drivers work. They always apply a little bit more, more even than their own instructions tell them to do. Maybe this is a basic human reaction; we want to be sure that we use enough, for the sake of safety, but the result is that we really apply too much. And of course this little bit more on every run adds up to an enormous amount when you put it all together."
The ramifications for the environment are not negligible, as extra salt runs off into adjacent fields, into streams and rivers, and ultimately impacts on the ecology and agricultural activities.
By using EGNOS to correct and augment existing GNSS signals, Golden Ice is able to command spreaders automatically, without the need for human intervention, to apply just the right amount of salt, no more and no less, to provide the maximum level of safety for winter drivers, even directing salt application to conform precisely to road morphology, as roads turn, narrow and widen.
Project partners say their most conservative estimates show the system will reduce salt consumption by at least 10%, and some are convinced the figure will be much higher, as much as 40%. And, they add, it is ready for the market. The system works and is ready to go.
Integrated safety system
The Golden Ice system also includes an integrated eCall function to communicate pinpointed accident data to municipal authorities and emergency response centers. This key safety function is activated in the event of an accident involving the spreader vehicle itself, but it also allows the driver to engage the eCall system manually, to signal other nearby emergency situations.
What is eCall?
eCall brings rapid assistance to motorists involved in a collision anywhere in the European Union. A device installed in vehicles automatically contacts an emergency response center in the event of a road accident, sending airbag deployment and impact sensor information as well as crucial GPS coordinates. The European Commission is aiming for a fully functional eCall service in place throughout the EU by 2015. Estimates say eCall could speed emergency response times by 40% in urban areas and by 50% in rural areas.
The Golden Ice consortium was coordinated by SAET, which developed the new onboard unit. Arvel Industries, part of the Italian Giletta group, is a manufacturer of salt spreaders and snow ploughs. Istituto Superiore Mario Boella is an R&D institution that provided expertise in GNSS technologies GPS and Galileo, while the insurance company Allianz provided help with the integrated eCall system. Finally, Hanes in the Czech Republic supplied the actual vehicle.
At the demonstration event in Prague, participants watched as Golden Ice allowed operators at a control centre to track a salt spreading vehicle moving through city streets in real-time. The onboard device automatically engaged, adjusted and disengaged actual salt distribution, using a complex algorithm developed by project partners, and the vehicle driver demonstrated the use of the eCall emergency communication system.
The event drew about 80 people participants from countries around Europe, including the Czech Republic, France, Lithuania, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain, Belgium and Poland. Organisers say it was a good opportunity to promote the results of the project, to exchange experiences and get feedback from customers, and to come up with new ideas.
Carmen Aguilera-Rios of the European GNSS Agency (GSA) says, "EU-funded GNSS project, which we coordinate at the GSA, are about delivering more than just reports and paperwork. With Golden Ice, we have a real working system that is ready for the market and that can make a big difference in terms of economic benefits, environmental performance and road safety, all of which we have seen demonstrated here today."