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Autonomous Snowplow Competition Wows Winter Carnival

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Most Minnesotans know that during the winter months, sooner or later, they'll have to bust out those shovels and plows.

But what if there was a way to remove the snow without any of the physical labor?

The Autonomous Snowplow Competition brings the idea of hands-free snow removal to reality during the St. Paul Winter Carnival.

College teams from around the Midwest and Canada spent the last several months building a functioning, hands-free snow plow.

E.J. Daigle and his team of Dunwoody college students see the value of an autonomous snowplow and have competed in the event for the last five years.

"We definitely have an edge as far as being in the cold and the snow. It's a tough competition.  A lot of good people, a lot of smart people on these teams," Daigle said.

Rarely has so much thought gone into clearing a driveway of snow.

The college teams use math, science and engineering skills to follow the guiding rule that the machine must be hands free.

"We have a variety of different sensors, GPS units, inertial measurements units that are laser sensored," Andy Narvesen a graduate student at North Dakota State University, said.

Once students figure out how to make their snow plow function, the machines become a showcase of design and innovation.

"We have a lot of power on our robot. It can clear a lot of snow. So, we thought that would help win the competition to get the snow cleared," Narvesen said.

For Daigle's team, the hope is success lies in its simplicity.

"We're actually using a magnetic track that could be embedded into a sidewalk and the plow will follow that without you ever seeing the magnets," Daigle said.

Like any competition, bragging rights are on the line, but these students know they may be paving a new path for the future of snow removal.

"You could wake up in the morning and, rather than have to go out and shovel snow, you could grab a cup of coffee and hit a button in the garage and this thing would do it for you," Daigle said.

Each of the prototypes range in price from $4,000 - $12,000.

The competition runs through Sunday in Rice Park as part of the St. Paul Winter Carnival.

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