Brains vs. blizzards: Harvard students take on snow removal

BOSTON -- Winter is bearing down anew, and Harvard University students have been engineering new ways to deal with it.

See Full Article

Eighteen juniors representing several engineering disciplines in professor David Mooney's problem-solving and design class spent the fall semester inventing a robotic remote-control rooftop snowblower, a superheated icicle cutter and a freeze-resistant doormat.

The projects grew out of meetings with the university's Facilities Maintenance Operations department, which is responsible for clearing snow from the 5,000-acre campus and was particularly challenged last winter when the Boston area got more than 9 feet of snow. Harvard shut down several times, the first time campus closed since the infamous Blizzard of '78.

"Don't get me wrong, FMO did an impressive job last winter," electrical engineering major Peyton Fine said. "But we wanted to somehow improve their operations. We wanted to make it easier to get around campus safely and keep workers safe."

A major problem is clearing snow off Harvard's many old and flat-roofed buildings. The main Cambridge/Boston campus has about 500 buildings.

The students retrofitted a commercial snowblower that can be controlled using a modified video game control pad and can be operated remotely, even from inside a nice, warm office. It eliminates the need for workers to spend time on slippery rooftops where they risk falling.

Another potential hazard for workers is clearing icicles off eaves. The students' research found that about 150 people a year are killed in the U.S. trying to clear snow and icicles off rooftops.

For that problem, the students came up with a device resembling a roof rake, with a long handle topped with a Y-shaped head that holds a super-heated wire that can quickly slice through the thickest of icicles while the operator stands on firm ground.

The students also developed a durable freeze-resistant hydrogel mat to keep doorways and steps ice free.

The class was one of the most practical junior bioengineering major Cassie Lowell has taken.

"It's a unique class in the sense is that we're given a lot of freedom," she said. "It was a really hands-on, real-world experience."

The students and Mooney stress that all their inventions are prototypes and won't be deployed on campus this winter. But some of the students plan to keep working on them, with the goal of one day making them commercially available.

Fine said he'd love to walk into a hardware store in the future and see the items for sale.

"Just like someone has a leaf blower in their garage, we'd love to see someone have an icicle cutter in the garage one day," he said.



Advertisements

Latest Tech & Science News

  • Waterton, Glacier parks get dark-sky designation

    Tech & Science CTV News
    WATERTON, Alta. -- A pair of sister parks straddling the border between Alberta and Montana have received a special designation. The Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, as the Canadian and U.S. parks are known, have received an International Dark Sky Park designation. Source
  • Robots boldly go where no one has gone before: Bob McDonald

    Tech & Science CBC News
    The robotic Cassini spacecraft that has been orbiting Saturn for the past 13 years began its final and most daring observation of the ringed planet by diving down through a small gap between the rings and the planet itself, a dangerous move never attempted by a spacecraft before. Source
  • Trump administration wins victory in effort to roll back Obama climate change efforts

    Tech & Science CBC News
    At the Trump administration's request, a federal appeals court agreed Friday to postpone a ruling on lawsuits challenging Obama-era restrictions on carbon emissions. The Environmental Protection Agency had asked the court to put a hold on the case shortly after President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing officials to roll back the Clean Power Plan. Source
  • Facebook isn't doing enough to control violent posts, says expert

    Tech & Science CBC News
    more stories from this episodeMeet the godfather of Canada's outlaw biker club, Satan's ChoiceWhat's life worth? Ken Feinberg on victim compensationFacebook isn't doing enough to control violent posts, says expertFull Episode Serena McKay was just 19 when she was killed in Sagkeeng First Nation in northern Manitoba. Source
  • Facebook preparing to fight political propaganda

    Tech & Science CTV News
    NEW YORK -- Facebook is acknowledging that governments or other malicious non-state actors are using its social network to influence political sentiment in ways that could affect national elections. It's a long way from CEO Mark Zuckerberg's assertion back in November that it was "pretty crazy" to think that false news on Facebook influenced the U.S. Source
  • A robot that picks apples? Replacing humans worries some

    Tech & Science CTV News
    SPOKANE, Wash. -- Harvesting Washington state's vast fruit orchards each year requires thousands of farmworkers, and many of them work illegally in the United States. That system eventually could change dramatically as at least two companies are rushing to get robotic fruit-picking machines to market. Source
  • Humpback whale babies 'whisper' to their moms to avoid detection by predators

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Newborn humpback whales "whisper" to their mothers to avoid being detected by predators such as killer whales, new research suggests. Never captured before, the baby whale call recordings were collected using tags placed temporarily on the whales by a team of ecologists in Denmark, Australia and Scotland. Source
  • Scientists solve century-old mystery of Antarctica's Blood Falls

    Tech & Science CTV News
    It’s a mystery that has baffled scientists for more than a century; how salty, blood-red water is able to ooze out from a million-year-old glacier in a region known for its freezing temperatures. When explorer and geoscientist Griffith Taylor discovered a 54-kilometre long glacier in Antarctica that released a deep red liquid in 1911, he attributed the strange phenomenon to red algae colouring the moving water. Source
  • Robots and new technology take the stage in battle against invasive species

    Tech & Science CBC News
    A robot zaps and vacuums up venomous lionfish in Bermuda. A helicopter pelts Guam's trees with poison-baited dead mice to fight the voracious brown tree snake. A special boat with giant winglike nets stuns and catches Asian carp in the U.S. Source
  • British inventor demonstrates flying suit in Vancouver

    Tech & Science CTV News
    British inventor Richard Browning lifted off from the shore of Vancouver Harbour on Thursday in a personal flight suit that inspired references to comic superhero 'Iron Man.' Using thrusters attached to his arms and back, Browning flew in a circle and hovered a short distance from the ground, captivating attendees at a prestigious TED Conference. Source