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u‑blox IoT solution enables cost-effective RWIS

Cost effective RWIS IoT solution

Deploying road weather information systems (RWIS) is often cost-prohibitive. This leads to blanket salting methods which are both inefficient/costly and detrimental to the environment.

Frost Control Systems (FCS) needed to find a more cost-effective solution that would help drive efficiency as required but at a lower cost to local municipalities across the United States. This study shows how FCS created an infrared sensor network connected and controlled by u‑blox IoT Communication-as-a-Serviceto achieve these goals.

For more information on how u‑blox can help you make IoT easy

The problem with RWIS

Vast road networks cover many thousands of miles in the northern United States, and in adverse weather conditions, these highways need to be kept clear and safe.

Networks of temperature sensors located across US highways communicate data that are used to determine when, how, and where critical salt applications are applied to keep traffic moving and reduce accidents despite adverse weather conditions.

However, for municipalities, at a city level, deploying RWIS has historically been cost-prohibitive. Instead, they opt for blanket salting methods which are both inefficient/costly and detrimental to the environment.

Industrial IoT offers the solution

Creating innovative solutions to address these challenges is increasingly falling to the community of IoT design houses, system integrators, and IoT device manufacturers.

The use of low-cost, efficient IoT hardware and LPWA connectivity is providing information and data that directly impact several business objectives. In this case:

  • Lower CAPEX
  • Lower operational costs
  • Accurate application of resources
  • Lower environmental impact

FCS, a US-based manufacturer and service provider of hyperlocal IoT weather sensors delivers the most cost-competitive road weather information systems (RWIS) on the market. So all cities, big or small, can leverage real-time data and safety-critical alerts.

The Challenge: Overcoming expensive, high-maintenance road condition monitoring and unreliable communications

Accurately understanding weather conditions enables authorities to predict and allocate salt spreading programs. Without this data, local municipalities are left with no other option other than to blanket cover the road networks.

Existing roadside sensing solutions are bulky and rely on satellite, 3G, and 4G modems, fiber optic backhaul, and some LTE for data transfer, which are complex and costly to maintain.

Inaccurate data is a problem for local authorities. . This can lead to parts of the network being untreated when there is a need to do so, and conversely, can also lead to over-treating in areas where there is no need.

There is also the environmental factor to consider. Over-treating contributes to high levels of salt getting into waterways, leading to corrosion and toxic chloride levels.

FCS needed to find a way to address these issues whilst bringing down unit and maintenance costs, thus making RWIS available for all municipalities.

The Solution: Creating a non-invasive, non-contact, infrared sensor-based unit that is built for the harshest winter conditions

FCS looked to the IoT to create an efficient low-cost, low-maintenance RWIS solution that could be easily deployed at a municipal level.

Each RWIS sensor monitors atmospheric data, takes images, and sends data packages every 20 minutes.

These data are sent to cloud-based software that organizes and presents data for continuous monitoring. The system also provides alerts which are sent to desktops and mobile devices to warn workers of the need for attention to the roads and to what level.

FCS chose u‑blox IoT communication services, MQTT Now (cloud-based MQTT integration for IP devices), and MQTT Here (MQTT integration for LoRaWAN® networks), to ensure reliable, seamless communication at a predictable cost.

MQTT Now benefits:

  • Comprehensive publish/subscribe data management for enterprise
  • MQTT 3.1.1 compliant
  • Carrier-grade, industrialized auto-scaling system
  • Simple pricing, based only on the consumption of MQTT messages
  • Advanced Data Flow Manager for building logical data flows and enrichment of IoT data for upstream systems
  • Pre-integrated into mainstream IoT and enterprises systems
  • Multiple levels of QoS (quality of service) for assured message delivery

MQTT Here benefits:

  • Scalable LoRaWAN Network Server components
  • Industrial MQTT broker
  • Data pre-processing with Data Flow Manager
  • Simple integration into mainstream IoT and enterprise systems

LoRaWAN coverage in the United States is growing rapidly but is not complete. Partnering with multiple RANs (Radio Access Networks) is the best way to ensure existing coverage at a location. This means finding or building a platform that can ingest data from multiple LoRaWAN servers at once. MQTT Here provides that functionality.

These services are managed by the Thingstream IoT Communication-as-a-Service platform which additionally provides access to the Data Flow Manager. This allows for easy routing of data and additional security and reliability measures that can be placed on top of existing LoRaWAN restrictions. One such implementation was to ensure that sensors send on a regular cadence. Overcoming this issue was a simple case of using Data Flow Manager to build a flow that flags when a message is received outside of the expected transmission window. This can very quickly notify workers of a problem with a device.

Key advantages of working with the u‑blox Thingstream platform include:

  • Pre-built compatibility for short and long term integration with enterprise applications
  • Enabling real-time collection and presentation of MQTT data from a LoRaWAN sensor
  • Low-powered communication methods, easy credential allocation, and a small device resource load that allows it to be run effectively on IoT equipment
  • Potential for international operation facilitating overseas business expansion 

Register for Thingstream now to enable rapid prototyping and easy integration into enterprise applications

Outcomes

FCS is deploying its IoT units across 30 US states to give municipalities hyper-local weather information. With this, they can deploy salt applications precisely according to variable microclimate conditions at a fraction of the cost of existing solutions.

  • The FCS solution is 6-8 times less expensive than other solutions on the market, making it a viable option for all municipalities
  • Municipalities can precisely target their salt application, resulting in 25-40% reductions in salt expenditure
  • As salt loads approach the natural removal capacity of the environment, long term, chloride (salt) seepage into waterways is reduced or eliminated altogether
  • The solution uses u‑blox IoT Communication-as-a-Service for all data transfer from cloud-to-storage and most data from road-to-cloud
  • Global software from u‑blox enables FCS to potentially offer its RWIS solution internationally

u‑blox is a member of the LoRa Alliance®. LoRa Alliance is a mark used under license from the LoRa Alliance®.