How Winter Operation Programs Are Evolving

November 9, 2020


How Winter Operation Programs Are Evolving

Winter maintenance work is essential in keeping our cities moving during rough weather. They play an integral role in keeping drivers, pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders safe during winter. This requires a high level of precise and careful planning from municipalities, because winter operation programs involve mobilization of a large scale of human resources and equipment. In addition, limited timeframes and challenging work environments, significantly increase the difficulties of these tasks. 


Across municipalities, staff, fleet managers, and contractors have been formulating innovative strategies, piloting new initiatives, and experimenting with the latest technologies, all aimed at improving operational efficiency and increasing residents’ satisfaction. To further elevate the winter operation programs to the next level, fleet managers need to leverage technologies’ power to bring in a more connected fleet solution to streamline the entire workflow. 


That translates to smarter route assignment, predictive maintenance, 360-degree safety protection, intuitive management platform, and improved public transparency in the real world. We will showcase what the future holds for the winter operation sector and why we should be excited about these changes. 


Existing Workflow In Winter Operation Programs 


Smart Software


Before we dive into the future state of winter operation programs, we need to gain a deeper understanding of the current service model to see what are some of the existing problems and what can be further improved. 


Right now, telematics is the brain and nerve centre that power the entire winter operations in most of municipalities. Telematics delivers an unparalleled level of connectivity, clarity, and transparency to fleet managers and drivers, giving them all the ease and freedom to manage and move around different types of assets and equipment across the network. Mapping tools display all the movements, locations, and status of assets in one simple, intuitive space where fleet managers can utilize the edit and compliance tool to change settings, edit rules being tracked, routes affected, and many other parameters. When fleet managers adjust the changes and settings, the map will update real-time with no lagging or delays. For fleet managers, being able to track and receive the information they need instantaneously is crucial in responding to unexpected events or identifying violations that happened during the work. 


Another huge component of a map building tool is the ability to launch a public-facing map that allows residents to track local winter operation progress. Municipalities need to bring real-time information to the public so that they can make informed winter travel decision. The two most important pieces of information for the public are whether winter operations crews have serviced their street and when was the last time the roads have been plowed and salted. Map builder tools typically deliver these promises and allow fleet managers to further customize the public-facing map. 


Geofencing has become an increasingly popular tool built right into map builders that enables fleet managers to set up virtual barriers between zones to better manage the assets and create efficient routing for equipment. To conduct winter operation work in any major metropolitans, fleet managers need to first divide the city into multiple small community zones and then assign assets to different zones to conduct work. The geofencing tool enables fleet managers to preplan zones and set optimal routing to assets. The system will notify fleet managers if any of the assets leave their designated zones or cross the geofencing boundaries, so early intervention can be taken by fleet managers to understand the issues. It is also a helpful tool for equipment operators as they can clearly track their work progress, know where to go next, and understand their restrictions. 


Interested in learning more about one of the most innovative map builder tools available? Check out ZenduMaps: 


Advanced Hardware


In addition to a software mapping tool, telematics also offers advanced hardware pieces to improve work efficiency and enhance the overall safety of the operations. Plow position reporting systems that are widely available are comprehensive onboard sensing systems that use air over hydraulic trigger signals to sense, capture, and transmit precise blade positions to drivers’ mobile tracking platforms. Drivers can see in real-time whether the blade is properly functioning and engaging in work. 


Needless to say, telematics connectivity leveraging software and hardware has already assisted winter services in many areas. But with ground breaking innovations such as 5G and robotic automation, a revolution in the winter service sector is on the horizon.


What Does the Future Holds For Winter Operation Programs?


Four ground breaking innovations will completely transform the winter operation models:


  1. Artificial intelligence and machine learning combined with intelligent camera technologies will transform winter service equipment into a data collection tool in the smart city network. 
  2. Electric snow plow vehicles can dramatically cut down carbon emissions and reduce operational and fuel costs for contractors and municipalities. 
  3. 5G networks can bring up the best of communication technologies to provide ultrafast Vehicle-to-Vehicle and Vehicle-to-Infrastructure communication. 
  4.  Autonomous vehicles and robotic automation can truly automate the entire winter operation and eliminate human costs and errors. 


All of these innovations may still seem far away, but they are actually closer than you think for winter operation programs. In fact, some of these technologies have already started appearing and are changing the way we live. 


A Camera With A Mind Of Its Own


Cameras are no longer just tools for recording films or vacation footage. With advanced machine learning and artificial intelligence, they can conduct automatic scene recognition and identify objects. The machine exhibits cognitive functions and acts like a human brain to identify, learn, process, detect objects and convert these to useful information for drivers and fleet managers. Here are some incredible tasks smart cameras are able to achieve: 


  • Identifying road potholes and report them to the city road maintenance department for repairs
  • Actively scan for safety risks around vehicles to avoid accidents and collisions
  • Track road traffic volumes and report the data to city traffic management and traffic control centres
  • Monitor distracted driving behaviours through facial recognition technologies
  • Report any equipment parts failures and automatically send alerts to fleet managers and drivers


Vehicles Going Green


As electric vehicles become more popular and battery technologies become more advanced, we have the opportunity to convert the entire winter maintenance fleet to electric vehicles. Many fleet managers have raised the concerns that cold temperature will have an impact on the range of the vehicles, but with increased battery size in new electric vehicle models, range loss has become less of an issue. Fleet managers can be confident that electric vehicles have the capability to handle the most challenging tasks. Here are a few amazing benefits that the adoption of the electric vehicle can bring to our communities: 


  • Significantly reduced carbon emissions and pollutions
  • Reduced noise impacts on local communities, resulting in overall improved community health
  • Lower fuel consumptions, operational costs and maintenance costs
  • Push for more electric vehicle charging stations and related infrastructures to be built in local areas
  • Shape a sustainable and green city’s brand image


Connecting Everything, 5G For All


5G, the next generation of wireless communication technology, brings a whole new experience to the assets management and communication world. With the introduction of 5G, we will see huge advancements in Vehicle-to-Vehicle and Vehicle-to-Infrastructure communications, which allows the individual asset to be connected with the entire smart city network. Here are some changes we are expecting to see in the future:


  • Vehicles utilize 5G network to communicate with a range of public infrastructures, such as signal light and traffic management systems, to deliver real-time information and best routing to drivers
  • City winter service departments can obtain real-time work progress of each vehicle and alert the public of any unsafe road conditions or road segments that should be avoided at any particular time
  • The city transportation department can utilize the data collected from the vehicle to adjust traffic signal patterns to improve traffic flow


Automate Everything


Imagine when an entire winter operations program can run seamlessly with just a few clicks on a computer. The progress made in autonomous vehicles and the robotic automation field has made this look increasingly real. When everything becomes fully automated, a significantly more precise, highly coordinated, safe and efficient winter operation workflow is on the horizon. These are just a few of the benefits that will arise when increased automation will start to take over the winter service sector: 


  • A more efficient, streamlined, and precise operational model that will minimize errors and delays
  • Enhanced safety features that completely eliminates the possibility of human errors
  • Significantly reduced labour costs and training costs
  • Fewer vehicle breakdowns and reduced maintenance costs
  • Vehicles can stay on roads and conduct work for an extended period with no break required


Winter maintenance is an essential branch of city services and fleet managers need to continuously develop new solutions to enhance service productivity and quality. With high expectations set by the local communities, only through investing in cutting-edge technologies can municipalities conquer these challenges. Contact us to speak with an industry-specific expert to see how we can elevate your games to the next level with breakthrough technologies.