Penn State

Could this new technology mean the end of snow days at Penn State?

A pedestrian walks in front of Old Main as snow falls March 2015.
A pedestrian walks in front of Old Main as snow falls March 2015. Centre Daily Times, file

Since 2010, Penn State’s University Park campus has only had three full snow days. Now, thanks to a recent graduate, snow days could become scarcer.

Achal Goel, who graduated in May with a master’s degree in industrial engineering, developed a software that could make snow removal on University Park’s campus more efficient and less costly.

The software, run through Excel, is called “Real-time Optimization for Adaptive Removal of Snow,” or ROARS. Goel said it’s “flexible and easy to use.”

Previously, Office of Physical Plant — which oversees snow removal from campus roads and parking lots (the focus of the project); walkways; and building entrances — never used any engineering tools to optimize the process, Goel said.

ROARS is able to give a detailed output in about 10-12 seconds, he said.

It factors in amount of snowfall, area to be plowed, number of snow-removal vehicles available and number of employees who are working, and then it’s able to calculate the cost and time it will take.

Goel said it took about a year to develop the software.

“Because there’s no such tool in the market right now, so I didn’t have any benchmark, so there were so many bugs, and I just kept fixing it and making it better and better,” he said.

According to a Penn State news release, Vikas Dachepalli, also an industrial engineering master’s degree student, did some initial research on the project before graduating in December 2017.

“The development of this software by an engineering student can have a great deal of impact,” Penn State President Eric Barron said in the release. “Anything that we can do to make the snow-removal operations more efficient and more effective will ultimately make our campus safer and that is our priority.”

Nadine Davitt, supervisor of solid waste and labor operations with OPP, said in the release that OPP’s primary challenge when it comes to snow removal is getting it cleared so that the university can open on time, while also meeting the campus community’s expectations.

“I expect to use ROARS as a tool to assist in decision-making this year,” she said. “For the first time, we will be able to use real-time information to determine the start time and expected finish time to completely remove the snow, and will be ready to pair the right-sized equipment to the area being plowed.”

Barron said this type of student effort fits into the Invent Penn State initiative.

“Invent Penn State is designed to enable students, faculty and staff to take their ideas into the marketplace,” Barron said. “It is wonderful to see a real student participating and solving real world problems. This not only sets him on a career path that is far better than classroom learning alone, it allows him to take the solution beyond the walls of Penn State and into the marketplace where it can improve service and make an impact on a much larger scale.”

Goel now works at a consulting firm in Atlanta.