Federal transportation officials consider synthetic vision technology for snowplow drivers

WASHINGTON, 6 May 2014. It might be a warm thought to those just emerging from a brutal winter that U.S. government transportation experts are ready to borrow from defense and aerospace synthetic vision technology to develop an enhanced vision system to enable snowplow drivers to see clearly in blizzard conditions.

Officials of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in Washington are notifying industry of an upcoming project to develop a prototype visual guidance system to help snowplow operators see in low- and zero-visibility conditions like blizzards, rural nighttime operations, super-cooled fog, and other high-visual-impairment situations.

FHWA officials released a presolicitation late last week (DTFH6114R00035) for the Advanced, Low-Cost Snowplow Visual Guidance System. The FHWA is a bureau of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The program will include gathering and synthesizing sensor data and displaying it on screens in the snowplow's cab to help drivers plow efficiently, drive safely along their designated routes, and avoid obstructions and other vehicles in zero-visibility winter conditions.

Related: Sierra Nevada to flight test synthetic vision to help helicopter pilots land in zero visibility

The project will involve digital imaging, digital multidimensional mapping, global positioning systems (GPS), sensing involving radar, light direction and ranging (LiDAR), and forward-looking infrared-based (FLIR), and related emerging and existing technologies, FHWA officials say.

Federal transportation officials for this project will be looking for companies with experience in advanced digital imaging and displays, including augmented reality, virtual reality, synthetic vision, and advanced user displays such as heads-up displays (HUDs), visors, and other wearable technology.

Officials want to develop a prototype snowplow vision system that can be tested and evaluated on the road in degraded-vision conditions that will be ready for further validation, enhancement and field use. It remains to be seen how this kind of technology might be received by state and municipal labor unions -- especially if this system could track their movements via GPS.

Related: Convergence: synthetic vision & enhanced vision

No details of when an official research solicitation for the Advanced, Low-Cost Snowplow Visual Guidance System project will be released. For questions or concerns contact the FHWA's Daniel Confer by phone at 202-366-0730, by email at daniel.confer@dot.gov, or by fax at 202-366-3705.

More information is online at https://www.fbo.gov/spg/DOT/FHWA/OAM/DTFH6114R00035/listing.html.

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