Snow Plowing with Robotics

Check out RoboPlow - the 50-inch snow blade equipped plowing machine!

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This winter (I know, technically not winter until tomorrow) has been a strange one thus-far here in Colorado. We've had more 60+ degree (F) days since Halloween than any year I can remember, and I've lived in Colorado my whole life (all 25 years of it). Fortunately for the skiing/snowboarding community, the mountains are getting hammered with snow. But I digress.

This project is one that, in a typical year, would be awesome to own in Colorado - or any other snowy region. Meet RoboPlow - a six-wheel drive, remote-controlled, camera-equipped, snow beast of a plow. It doesn't quite, as we say in the business, plow-to-pavement, but it does an admirable job and remarkably doesn't seem to get stuck at all while plowing what appears to be a decent amount of snow. It's all controlled remotely from a computer, meaning you can stay inside, keep warm, and drink whiskey hot cocoa while clearing off your driveway.


Comments 46 comments

  • oren / about 12 years ago / 2

    Very cool. But ARGH... Amps are not units of power! *&%$&#!!!

    • smartroad / about 12 years ago / 1

      Ah? hehe (edit: I mean AmpHour not Ahhhh!)

    • That one bugged me too! But 660 Amps is still POWERful.
      Also, to add to the growing list of additions, I'd suggest side lights or a rotating light to increase it's visibility to others on snowy days. It'd be a tragedy for Roboplow to get plowed into by a neighbour backing out of their driveway or something.
      edit - I just had an idea from one of the above comments: What about a robot that doesn't plow or blow the snow out of the way, but instead packs it into snowballs and launches them. MWAA HAA HAA!

      • dwc309 / about 12 years ago / 1

        For the BlackJester.....
        http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,319473,00.html

  • MikeGrusin / about 12 years ago / 2

    Just add autonomy for the stay-in-bed win!

  • The nice hard workers who mow lawns for a living in very hot conditions might appreciate a robo-mower version, so they could avoid, again, the harsh environment.

  • Member #842326 / about 6 years ago / 1

    As for power consumption, the I-Shovel would utilize a rechargeable battery with a solar power option, which would make it eco-friendly and inexpensive to operate. Unfortunately for our friends in cold weather climates, the I-Shovel is currently in a prototype phase—but the designers are actively searching for partnerships to develop the design into a production appliance. http://angelos-supplies.com/

  • Calif / about 12 years ago / 1

    It beats the knitting robot. Obviously not going to replace the union protected government road crew. Now if only it could be autonomous.

  • Blacklab1 / about 12 years ago / 1

    This looks great!
    But what was the condition of the snow you were plowing? It looks like powder? Have you tried wet snow?
    And if you had to use a blower how do you see that attached to your tank?
    And are you monitoring the discharge of the Batteries while you are playing in the snow? And if you are, how's your Amps to Voltage curve looking Vs Time?
    I guess because you are using lead acid batteries that helps with the traction, but what does that do for your power usage?

  • Member #109088 / about 12 years ago / 1

    This past week we got down to -40 Fahrenheit (or Celsius, it is the same as this temperature) with windchill. A week or two ago we (Calgary, Alberta) were the second coldest place on the planet...next to the south pole. :( I tried to build a bot similar to this a year or so ago, but we have such heaps of snow on either side of our driveway that the robot would have to lift it about 5 feet at some times in the year to get it on top.

  • noworries / about 12 years ago / 1

    Sweet!
    Must be nice to have a CNC milling machine to make custom parts on.
    Next you can make a mower deck attachment for use in the summertime.

  • dksmall / about 12 years ago / 1

    Some of the Battlebot guys use to put plows on their combat robots to keep them working in the off season. The on-board camera is a good idea to help steer the thing!

  • EneilShade / about 12 years ago / 1

    "Thank's for watching!"
    ... That just makes me sad. Does "for watching" belong to Thank? Or is it trying to say "Thank is for watching"?
    And 660 amps of POWER?! AMPERAGE IS NOT A MEASURE OF POWER!
    Still cool though...

  • SoTexEE / about 12 years ago / 1

    Awesome engineering! I would have to replace the plow with a reel mower seeing as it was 85*F out this morning.

  • intranick / about 12 years ago / 1

    I wonder how many pounds of snow this could push. all it needs is some autonomy -- and a chair that i can ride it from for the fun of it :)

  • rj44319 / about 12 years ago / 1

    660Amps of "power" semmes a little unpractical...
    My 340lb combat bot (from University of Akron) didn't even pull that much...just saying

    • CF / about 12 years ago / 1

      I think they are saying it's capable of providing 660 amps.

      • rj44319 / about 12 years ago / 1

        still, what motor do you know that will stand even 330amps of power? (thats small enough to fit in that robot) not even mag motors....

        • dnear1 / about 12 years ago / 1

          You obviously haven't dealt much with motors.
          My 1/10 carbon fiber RC car pulls upwards of 78 amps from a 7.2v NiMh pack under acceleration. That's from a 14 turn mag motor and run of the mill ESC. He has 6 wheels and a lot of weight to push around (including the snow). I'd guess he has 6 much larger independent motors pulling a max of 110 amps each. Totally realistic!

  • fle33.com / about 12 years ago / 1

    Wouldn't 660amps be better used melting the snow with a plasma gun?
    The resulting water turning back to ice might not be so pedestrian friendly I guess. Maybe 660amps is enough to turn snow to steam..

    • WimL / about 12 years ago / 1

      Not really... try calculating how much energy it takes to boil that amount of snow. Even assuming a high system voltage, say 96V, 660A is only 60kW. Which is a lot of power in a mechanical context, sure, but not a whole lot if you're trying to convert ice to steam rapidly.

  • Ben121 / about 12 years ago / 1

    Coffinbot?

  • Member #114232 / about 12 years ago / 1

    I'll buy one. How much?
    Ed from NY

  • Young Maker / about 12 years ago / 1

    Damm is 20F here in the washington area. U got it great for colorado.

  • CaptainKirk / about 12 years ago / 1

    Definitely cool, well made, and not to be a Luddite, but $10,000 will hire a lot of neighborhood kids with shovels (who can then buy stuff from Sparkfun and learn about electronics). :-)

  • Scott14 / about 12 years ago / 1

    Just keep it away from cats and other small furry critters . . . or someone will pass a law and ban anything autonomous forever more. Well, at least they will here in Washington, were we stupid citizens need to be controlled by the lawmakers cause we just don't know better.

  • MatthewR / about 12 years ago / 1

    Very cool robot. I wonder how deep and heavy of snow it works with, and how well those tires would work on icy surfaces. Somewhere I saw a lot of info on this bot (months ago, maybe a year ago), and IIRC, it's price tag was something like $10,000 USD, which I would believe, based on size and quality.

  • Chairforce / about 12 years ago / 1

    Install Gps and a recognition system, so it can see people and pets, and sell it to cities to plow sidewalks.

  • tiagofumo / about 12 years ago / 1

    I believe this was not cheap =S
    660 amps, that charge and the fact that they used a CNC to build some mechanic parts makes me think this was not cheap

  • tiagofumo / about 12 years ago / 1

    this music when the robot appears, is the music from microchip escs videos in youtube

  • Tejon / about 12 years ago / 1

    Where I can found motors of enough powerful for this type of application?

  • scharkalvin / about 12 years ago / 1

    Wow, like a Roomba on steroids. I wonder if this thing is like a RPV or if it avoids collisions on it's own via the camera (hey stick a Kinect on it!). In the video it missed a parked truck by 'that' much.
    I can just imagine it plowing down someone walking down the sidewalk or into a car backing out of a driveway.

  • Jassper / about 12 years ago / 1

    Just saw one like this on the news the other day. A local guy here made his with a snow blower instead of a plow. Makes more sense as you don't need the heavy torque motors to push a lot of snow, just throw it out of the way.

  • Erik-Sparkfun / about 12 years ago / 1

    I NEED one of these. Seriously.

  • Nakor / about 12 years ago / 1

    I'm from Ontario and one of these would be amazingly useful. Probably would want to put some tank tracks on it instead but that's awesome. I would add a salt/sand spreader and 3 more cameras (preferably.) It doesn't look as though there is quite enough peripheral vision built in to this one.

  • Draxssab / about 12 years ago / 1

    I agree for the salt spreader.
    But for here in Quebec (Canada) it would need tracks at the place of wheels, since we have "a bit" more snow :D

  • numinit / about 12 years ago / 1

    I'm on I-70 right now with my family driving to Vail. We aren't even to the tunnel yet and have been driving for an hour and a half. We need an army of RoboPlows right now.

    • Chris S / about 12 years ago / 1

      Posting on SFE while driving. How wonderful.

      • numinit / about 12 years ago / 1

        Not driving, riding with my parents. Family ski trips FTW.

        • SomeGuy123 / about 12 years ago / 1

          Are you in FIRST Robotics?

          • numinit / about 12 years ago / 1

            Nope. :P But I am with a certain Colorado high school building a high altitude balloon project for launch this spring.

  • chubs1646 / about 12 years ago / 1

    I have been working on building one of these myself for the last 3 years. mine only has 4 wheels but they are all 4 run by incredibly high torque wheelchair motors. also has a motorized broadcast spreader for salt. I live in Iowa and dont get NEARLY the amount of snow you guys do but it certainly was born from a see a need fill a need mentality.

  • BigHomie / about 12 years ago / 1

    Awesome. They should sell the kits. If they don't already. Would be great to own in MI, we're known to randomly get snow all year 'round, and 80 degree days also.

  • Time4PlanB / about 12 years ago / 1

    Cool project! Needs a salt spreader on the back and then its the ultimate winter machine!

  • JakkeFire / about 12 years ago / 1

    over here (Belgium) we're having a record number of snowy days since 1945. Help! The poles are shifting.

  • jakkjakk / about 12 years ago / 1

    too freaking cool. How much? Where can I get one?

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