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SnowBot - Forecasting the future of snow removal

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Feb. 7, 2019

What’s faster than a seasoned snow shoveler? More powerful than a snowblower? Able to clear four feet of snow in a single pass?

MSU’s SnowBot.

“It’s the first of its kind in the country,” said Matt Bailey, landscape manager at Landscape Services. “I first saw SnowBot at a conference last summer in Louisville, and I wanted to make sure MSU was the first to test the potential of this cutting edge technology.”

Bailey submitted a funding request to IPF, and Executive Vice President for Administrative Services Satish Udpa agreed to fund the new innovation pilot with $45,000 for the purchase of the machine and the operational system to support it.

Built by Colorado-based commercial-class robotics company Left Hand Robotics, SnowBot arrived at the university in late January.

“Left Hand was really excited when I reached out to them and felt that MSU was a great platform with great resources to try it out,” explained Bailey, who imagines a future where SnowBot continuously grooms high priority areas—the Breslin Student Events Center before basketball games, healthcare facilities and other accessible buildings where people with disabilities visit regularly.

“We would never replace our workforce,” Bailey assured, “but it would be a way to keep skilled employees on skilled tasks and let the robot complete the highly repetitive, physically taxing and often nighttime labor required to shovel snow.”

Even Superman built his own army of robots to help protect the earth 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

SnowBot’s four foot brush sweeps snow down to bare pavement in the front and has the capacity to apply de-icer from the back. According to Left Hand Robotic’s website, SnowBot can do the work of six snow shovelers in less than half the time, without tiring.

Test runs are taking place at Forest Akers West Golf Course—a controlled, fenced in area closed down for the winter, with ample asphalt-paved paths.

GIS analyst, Jeremiah Saier from Landscape Services leads the testing of the new equipment. Saier partnered with IT Services and Left Hand Robotics to install SnowBot’s GPS unit on campus. Using a path collection tool connected to the GPS, Jeremiah walked the golf course paths, programming location data down to the inch into SnowBot’s Robot Operations Center (ROC). 

SnowBot has an array of sensors to avoid any obstacles, and will be in continuous communication with a tablet or phone as it works.

Bailey is hoping to reach out to engineering student groups, faculty and staff to interact with SnowBot, which will be housed in Landscape Services’ garage.

“The ultimate intent is that Landscape Services becomes so efficient that it trickles down and lowers tuition rates,” said Bailey. “We want to have a positive impact that makes campus safe for students and everyone coming to MSU.”

A superhero could not have said it any better.

Check out SnowBot in action on our YouTube video.