Patent for snow-penetrating radar

02/24/04

A concept for a snow-penetrating radar device has been patented by researchers at UC Davis' Advanced Highway Maintenance and Construction Technology (AHMCT) research center. The radar system is being developed for use on a rotary snowplow, allowing the driver to locate and avoid objects buried within snowbanks.

Snowbanks have difficult properties, such as layers of salt and dirt, that make them hard to penetrate with radar, said research engineer Ty Lasky, who leads the Advanced Rotary Plow project. The patent sets out concepts for combining a narrow beam with a signal frequency that can penetrate up to six feet into the snowbank and provide the driver with an intuitive image of buried objects.

While snowblowers are generally robust machines, buried objects such as rocks and discarded tire chains can cause damage, Lasky said. Snow-penetrating radar could potentially also be used for avalanche rescue.

The researchers are currently working on a prototype device. Future work may use new types of materials that have a negative index of refraction, Lasky said. First demonstrated in 2001 by physicists at UC San Diego, materials with a negative index of refraction, sometimes called "left-handed materials," reverse the optical properties of normal materials. Proponents think that left-handed materials could be used to build "perfect lenses" for light, microwaves or radio waves.

The AHMCT research group, headed by Steven Velinsky, professor of mechanical and aeronautical engineering, has previously built a snowplow capable of navigating in blizzard conditions. Other projects developed by the team, which is funded principally by the California Department of Transportation, include automated machines for roadside cleaning, laying and picking up traffic cones, and sealing highway cracks.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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