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Weather analytics and IoT sensors: Changing the rules of the road through data

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Science & Technology Writer

Combining traditional sources of weather information, such as weather stations, satellites and radar, with sensor-enabled data can improve predictions of adverse weather conditions before they happen. Using weather analytics in travel to reduce delays could pay off substantially, saving some of the $8.66 billion in annual costs that weather-related delays cause in the freight industry, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Tracking road conditions in real time

Inaccurate road condition reports can be dangerous. For example, the Colorado Department of Transportation provides road conditions online, but for some highways and all secondary routes, it uses field reports for updates. Its website warns that "some time may have elapsed since the last field report was made" and that the information is for planning purposes only. That's why a truck driver caught in a blizzard needs real-time information to adjust his route or get off the road before conditions get worse.

Rich data from Internet of Things (IoT) sensors is helping transportation companies improve their operations, better manage their assets and get cargo where it's going. Here are a few IoT devices that can put weather analytics into drivers' hands:

  • Road sensors: Sensors embedded in roadways are already providing real-time data on traffic flow on the New Jersey Turnpike, reports FutureStructure. Merging this information with a variety of unstructured data sources, from satellite weather information to social media data, gives the Turnpike Authority's traffic managers gain valuable insights that can influence their decision-making patterns with a sense of immediacy.
  • Fog and smoke sensors: These conditions can appear suddenly, blinding drivers to what's ahead. The Georgia Institute of Technology Research Institute worked with the Georgia Department of Transportation to install a weather warning system that automatically alerts the state's transportation management center of fog and smoke, posts warnings on lighted message signs and turns on appropriate streetlights. These efforts can protect fleets by alerting truckers to reduce speed while keeping the roads as visible as possible.
  • Rain and flood gauges: Flash floods can suddenly wash out roads, damaging vehicles and cargo. KXAN in Blanco, Texas, reports that the U.S. Geological Survey is installing additional sensors after a flash flood tore up a state highway. These sensors, when connected to the Internet, could provide earlier and more accurate warnings, allowing researchers to analyze data inputs along with weather data.
  • Dust monitors: These devices optically measure particulate matter in the air and transmit data to remote servers. The information can be used to trigger alerts and provide reports to fleet companies and drivers. The data can also be integrated with information from other IoT devices for a comprehensive road condition report.
  • In-vehicle sensors: Automobile and truck manufacturers are already embedding cellular modems in vehicles, providing a persistent connection to Internet-based data and services. For example, Volvo Trucks introduced connected-fleet services that include smart navigation with real-time road conditions based on information from other local Volvo trucks. In the future, more real-time data from vehicles will help weather analytics work faster and more accurately; for example, windshield wiper and headlight use during the day indicate weather conditions. These updates can help maximize asset usage by rerouting vehicles in response to weather conditions. Fleet managers may also be able to predict when parts will need replacing based on how often individual vehicles are caught in poor conditions.

In the future, smarter vehicles will be able to link to intelligent transportation infrastructure. Freight businesses will be able to link their own data to information such as historical traffic information, dangerous sections of road, weather patterns and driver behavior. Fleet management systems can use this data to determine the optimal speed for a route based on real-time weather and other conditions, saving fuel and keep drivers within hours-of-service regulations, says Supply Chain 247.

How could your travel business combine weather analytics and IoT sensors to keep trucks on time and on the move? Connect with analytics professionals via IBM's Travel and Transportation Industry Solutions Page.