EQUIPMENT & HARDWARE
Why Frost Control Systems?
Here at Frost Control Systems, our primary line of sensors focuses on utilizing highly accurate infrared technology to create road temperature and surface state (bare pavement, wet, snow, icy condition state) cameras. These cameras are mounted on common support structures such a bridge trusses, traffic signal mast arms, and light poles to produce a comprehensive, real time, map of road temperatures.
For our municipal clients, we specialize in using this equipment to bring operations up to the same level of standards seen on our nation’s highways and airports. Decade old safe and sustainable deicing techniques have yet to be adopted within cities due to rapidly changing and varied road weather conditions within city limits.
To solve this roadblock preventing safer, more effective and environmentally friendly road treatment, we install 2-4 road temperature sensors along each plow route. In addition, surface state, snow depth, and other various sensor types are placed in safety critical locations to ensure proactive treatment of highest risk areas.
For our commercial clients, the focus is getting individuals from their car to their end destination safely. This takes many forms.
For some clients this means a strong focus on pre-emptive alerts produced by the installed hardware system.
For others, it’s about accountability and ensuring parking lots are cleared and treated within a specific timeframe of the 1st snow alert.
A few select clients focus on efficiency and how sustainable deicing can be launched within parking lots.
Common commercial systems include 2-3 surface state sensors and 1-2 snow depth sensors for each parking lot paired with some targeted sensors at troublesome sidewalk locations.
No Access to Power?
As of 2019, we have developed a battery powered unit for more flexibility in deployments. Common areas of use are bridges and highways, but we have also seen battery units utilized when shared equipment is an issue. An example would be when the traffic cabinet is owned and maintained by the county when the road is maintained by the city. The use of battery powered units has seen a steady increase in popularity as it provides much more flexibility with location, installation, and maintenance.
NETWORK & SECURITY
Placement of sensors is crucial when something as simple as traffic causes around 3° temperature differentials. The road characteristics such as traffic levels, road composition, and microclimates are all part of the network design. Salt sensitive areas such as streams, “first to freeze” locations, and safety critical locations such as schools/hospitals are equally important to include in the design of the system. We work directly with cities to create this solution, and in some cases, we’ve dedicated more than 50 hours of engineering design on creating the perfect network alone.
Frost Control System’s sensors are naturally protected from the vast majority of high risk/damage security threats because they are installed outside of accessibility by the public (20 ft or higher above ground) and do not transmit on private, mesh, cluster, or tree networks. In truth, they are one of the lowest priority devices to be attacked at the intersection or in the traffic cabinet. In terms of a comparable risk level, FCS sensors are very similar to a GPS/AVL beacons on city vehicles.
For reference, IOT solutions commonly face security concerns because hardware is easily compromised by experienced security experts and the damage can be tremendous under certain circumstances. While the hardware itself has very little value in being individually compromised, the overall network can be infected in some setups. The figures on the right are examples of high risk IOT networks.
Publicly accessible sensors connected directly into routers or ethernet connections can be the entry point for a virus that takes down the entire network.
Sensor networks where sensors connect to multiple other sensors to reduce costs spent on network backhauls are at risk of a single compromised node infecting the entire network. Tree and star networks are much lower risk as the base nodes containing the backhaul infrastructure typically have stronger security protections and no physical access to prevent further spread.
ROAD WEATHER INFORMATION SYSTEMS
What is an RWIS?
A Road weather information system (RWIS) is a device contained within an Environmental Sensor Station (ESS). An RWIS is any location with one or more fixed sensors measuring atmospheric and/or pavement conditions. The RWIS device is able to collect and process the data collected by the ESS to develop forecasts and relay information in an understandable format to aid facility managers and risk personnel in their decision making.
Why use an RWIS?
Road temperature is the number one, most important piece of information when performing winter road maintenance because it is directly tied to the performance of deicer materials such as road salt. As road temperatures drop 5-10 degrees, you should expect to see road salt melting capabilities decrease by a factor of 5.
In cities it is even more important as the conditions are extremely varied. These increased variations are caused by differences in road composition, levels of traffic, building density, and microclimates that all contribute to massive 8-10 degree road temperature variations across plow routes.
Why Not Mobile RWIS?
The short answer is that mobile units are equivalent to a basic flip-phone in the age of smartphones. They’re great if all you want to do is make phone calls, however, they’ve hit their maximum potential already. Smart phones have decades of new technology and advancement ahead as an entertainment center, health monitoring system, security badge, debit card, and so much more. Similarly, mobile-RWIS have hit a similar wall where their only use case is recording the temperature of the road at a few spots as the supervisor drives in to work.
The errors caused by time alone are astronomical. Recording a measurement at 8:15am instead of 8:00am will likely read 1-9 degrees warmer than it should. Frost Control Systems has investigated improved mobile solutions, such as scanning with drones where 4-5 drones would scan the entire city within one hour. This fails because it is too difficult and nowhere near as accurate.
The only way to achieve the required levels of accuracy is to record the entire city within 15 minutes. This task either requires a tremendous number of mobile sensors, or deployment on civilian vehicles. The latter is not possible due to the errors caused by parking in garages and maintenance of the mobile devices. The former doesn’t work well as any analysis requires hundreds of sensors across the city all reporting at once. Many deicing decisions are made at 4-6am where very few city vehicles are even traveling on the roads.
FCS' Cellular Solution
FCS uses an embedded cellular chip that is vastly superior to off-the-shelf industrial cellular modems. FCS’s embedded solution was designed and coded from the ground-up by our engineers because the uptime observed while using industrial cellular modems was not satisfactory. Numerous improvements were included to tailor and improve the sensors for their specific situation. For example, since the sensors are fixed, algorithms that measure how long specific cell towers take to connect and placing the fastest connection as the default, improves battery performance significantly. This way time spent at peak power trying to connect is reduced substantially. Similarly, disconnecting from the tower between transmissions, requiring proof of connection/payload delivery, and much more all lead to enhanced performance over industrial cellular modems.
FCS’s competition has not built an embedded cellular solution because building a device that transmits on cellular frequencies is extremely expensive:
1. A cellular chip needs to be purchased or developed into the electronics design. ($10,000 design)
2. Every product with the cellular chip must go through extensive emissions testing to become certified with the FCC. ($50,000 in initial engineering and then $40,000 in government testing per product and revision.)
3. Every cell carrier has very strict certification and programming processes to become certified on their network. Often this means exclusivity.
4. The device connection algorithms need to be written and the total number of cellular engineers that can actually write the code required to
properly connect to cell towers can likely be counted on two hands. ($50,000)
5. As such, certifications and testing to create something such as a cell phone runs a minimum of $200,000+2-3 years of development per product.
For most use cases, this makes developing an embedded cellular solution a last resort. The most often solution for cellular communications is to purchase an off-the-shelf industrial cellular modem such as Sierra Wireless GX Series($700) or Digi International WR21($400), etc
Our team is very skilled at taking data and transforming it into real, actionable, information. When the City of Lincoln had one of the worst winters in recorded history and were dealing with excessive pothole issues, Frost Control Systems stepped in and created an algorithm to determine the number of true freeze thaw cycles that had occurred. This information was then used as part of an educational campaign to help explain why the city roads were in peril. This is one of many examples of small 10-20 hour projects that have been included free of charge.
“One Screen for Everything” is an ideal that FCS supports wholeheartedly. Whenever cities want to integrate FCS data into other platforms, either for added value, or to consolidate platforms, FCS is happy to help. Our system is designed with integrations in mind and the data can be easily sent anywhere it needs to go.
Validating the Accuracy of our Sensors
During our two years of field testing and trials, measurements were taken bi-monthly at locations in Michigan and Indiana. All units reported measurements accurate to within ¼ of a degree during the trials. In addition, we have a strict calibration process. After factory calibration, our units are put through a second and third round of calibration. The second round involves the use of a fully accredited UKAS Lab Certified thermometer (.1℉), and the third round is site commissioning in the field.
FCS Infrared Optics
FCS has a patent pending optical system that eliminates the lens structure. Removing the lens structure, while maintaining structural integrity and water tightness, is a tremendous step forward in utilizing infrared’s tremendous ability to accurately measure road temperature at a distance.
Salt & the Environment
Salt was first used in New Hampshire in 1938 as a cheap and effective way to tackle winter weather related conditions. By 1941 about 5,000 tons of salt were being used on highways nationwide. Currently it is estimated that 20 million tons of salt are spread on US roads every year and that number is only going to increase.
In a study conducted by the Natural Science Foundation they have found significant increases in freshwater pH and salinity. There has been a 37% increase in salinity that is contributing to the 90% increase in alkalization. Another study conducted in Duchess Co. New York found that the sodium levels in 125 wells were at 48 mg/L and 48% of all wells were over the recommended 20 mg/L.
Why Does it Matter?
Once salt is introduced to the water, there are no natural ways to remove that salt causing an imbalance to all surrounding ecosystems. Salt is also very corrosive and can cause major damage to vehicles, roads, bridges, and any other structure it may come in contact with. High levels of chloride in water can also corrode the pipes it flows through, leaching harmful materials into citizens’ drinking water resulting in tragedies like the Flint Michigan water crisis.