Before long, you may see orange cones gliding onto Iowa highways all by themselves. Midwest researchers have developed robotic traffic cones and barrels that can follow computer commands to move themselves onto and off of roads. University of Nebraska-Lincoln mechanical engineering professor Shane Farritor says the wheeled cones and barrels can even be programmed to move themselves around at certain times of day. Farritor says it’s a dangerous job for a person to place the cones and the robotic version of the cones could eliminate that risk. Using global positioning satellite technology, the cones can self-deploy, self-retrieve and reconfigure themselves as the work zone changes. Farritor says he’s talked with D-O-T officials in Iowa and elsewhere about how the cones should work. He says the cones would perform two basic functions, the first being — moving from the roadside into traffic to form a wedge shape and close a lane. The second function would be to have a group of seven or eight barrels follow a slow-moving maintenance operation like stripe-painting or asphalt-laying. The barrels could follow the work crew in the work zone formation so a large area would not have to be blocked off. Farritor says the cones and barrels wouldn’t be cheap, but could save money in the long run.Each barrel could cost around 200-dollars which he says is “reasonable” when you think of how much a person has to be paid to do the job, along with death and dismemberment insurance. Farritor says he came up with the idea because of his “general hatred of work zones and the dislike for having barrels set up all the time with no one working.” He’s built several prototypes, has applied for a patent and hopes to market the robotic cones and barrels to state D-O-T’s, utilities and other types of companies with work crews.
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