CNCounty News

’Snow-bot’ keeps sidewalks clear at county library

snowbot

Key Takeaways

The Arapahoe County, Colo. library system is enlisting the help of a self-driving snow removal robot to clear out ice and snow to keep the library open and accessible to the public throughout the winter months. 

The county averages around 63 inches of snow per year, more than double the national average. 

Anthony White, director of innovation and technology for Arapahoe Libraries, said the county gets around five to eight major snow storms each year. The partnership with a company that makes the snow robot, will make the Koelbel location, where the pilot program is taking place, safer to access, he said.

“A lot of folks rely on us, because they’ve got nowhere else to go,” White said. 

“When there are snowstorms, we provide a nice, safe, warm place for folks to go … At our Koelbel library, we have a senior center less than a block away, so those folks ideally still want to walk over and use us, so it is a priority to get cleared, get our staff in safely and hopefully keep the libraries open.”

The snow-removal robot company is working to create specialized extensions for the library’s needs, including making sure the machine can go up and down stairs and have additional battery packs so that it can function for an extended amount of time, according to White. 

With the pilot continuing throughout the year, the robot will also help with foliage clearing during the summer and fall. 

The company is set to finish mapping the route at the library’s Koelbel branch in the coming weeks and the first test will be whenever the next major snowstorm occurs, White said. 

The hope is to then expand the collaboration to other libraries in the county if the pilot is a success, he added. 

Sasi Prabhakaran, the founder of Snowbotix, said he created the technology as a solution to labor shortages and safety issues surrounding ice and snow management. 

Struggling with recruitment and retention, local government has faced disproportionate levels of workforce vacancies, as one of only two sectors to not return to pre-pandemic levels of employment. 

The company is also working to recruit traditional snow removal contractors, so that they can contribute their knowledge into extending the robot’s technology. 

“Robots can do some things that are really hard for a human to do,” Prabhakaran said. 

“Our goal is to take humans from the hazardous work environments. The streets are good, because they have trucks and they’re able to do things without hurting themselves, but when it comes to the sidewalk, it’s really challenging, because you have to take your hand shovel or use gas-powered equipment and it’s freezing cold — that’s not something easy for humans to bear.”

Arapahoe Libraries teamed up with his company through the Colorado Smart Cities Alliance, a non-profit organization that connects governments and businesses to increase innovation and improve communities across the state. 

Araphoe County’s library system is the only library in the Alliance. The robot company previously worked with the city of Greeley to clear snow and ice from its sidewalks, bike paths and other areas that are traditionally difficult to manage. 

Prabhakaran said he’s hoping to continue and expand government partnerships. 

His company’s next major project will be to work on addressing vegetation control along roads and highways.

“This is a one-of-a-kind opportunity, because getting into the government system is not an easy thing for a start-up like ours,” Prabhakaran said. 

“… It’s a perfect playground for us to test our technology to verify and validate how automation can benefit a community.”

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