Increasing the Value of Data From Remote Sensors and Databases for Winter Highway Maintenance

Document Type


Publication Date

January 1993


Executive Summary: The objectives of this study was to enhance the value of data received by maintenance foremen for making decisions regarding winter highway maintenance. More specifically, to develop a microcomputer-based Decision Support System (DSS) to facilitate the acquisition and interpretation of information from weather advisory services and from remote sensors at Remote Weather Information Systems (RWIS). The project was a joint venture with Utah State University (USU), and the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT), and SSI Corporation, St. Louis, MO. SSI provided a RWIS at reduced cost to UDOT; UDOT installed the equipment and provided technical assistance for the project; and USU developed new user interfaces based on expert system techniques. Three approaches were evaluated for developing the new interfaces: 1) a commercial expert system shell, 2) the Prolog programming language, and 3) the C++ programming language. Work with the shell was pursued for about two months and then abandoned. The shell worked very well for quickly establishing rules and it provided an impressive user interface. However, we were unable to communicate effectively with the software for the remote sensors. We found Prolog to be a powerful programming language especially when used in conjunction with a commercial library for the graphical user interface (GUI). However, like the shell, Prolog also lacked the flexibility we needed to communicate effectively with the remote sensors. An application was developed using Prolog to interface with the WSI Weather Information Service. We found C++ to be the best tool for developing a knowledge-base decision support system to interface with the SSI remote weather information system. An application was developed in C++ that provides a new prototype menu-driven user interface and links it to a knowledge-base decision support system. A panel of experts was formed with maintenance foreman from Utah and Colorado who had extensive experience with winter highway maintenance. The computer interfaces were designed according to the recommendations of the panel. The experts created the knowledge-base for the SSI decision-support system and evaluated the preliminary applications. The SSI program was also tested by giving a non-expert historical data from two storms, and asking him to make decisions regarding the dispatch and release of maintenance crews. The non-expert reached the same conclusions as the expert for a small sample of relatively simple situations. Although the overall approach and the design of the graphical user interface were judged to be effective, the current rule-base is suitable only for prototype demonstrations. The WSI weather information system interface was evaluated by maintenance personnel and judged to be very satisfactory. It was obvious from the interchange with the experts that the use of a graphical user interface is necessary in order to effectively use existing weather services by eliminating the need for the user to memorize complex command syntax.

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