Wednesday, January 16, 2008

So long, road scrapers?

It was flurrying this week in Nashville and, if you have ever driven through Nashville when it’s snowing, you know that panic grips the motoring public. This light flurry was enough to bring three interstates to a crawl, spawning multiple wrecks as amateurs tried to get their 4WD Humvees and SUVs home before the going got … tweachawous, as Frau Bl├╝cher from “Young Frankenstein” might put it.

As I watched the light twists of flakes dance across the highway, I recalled a story heard over the CB on a truly tweachawous, icy afternoon here. It seems there was a driver with a pretty hot load who hit snowy weather. It got worse and worse, so finally he pulled over and called dispatch to say he was gonna wait for it to blow over. “Unh-unh,” Dispatch said. “You find a snowplow and get behind it and go. That load has to get there.”

So the driver did as instructed. He spotted a plow and off he went. An hour or so later, the plow truck driver radioed to the big rigger: “I’m done here at the Wal-Mart. If you wanna keep following me, I’m going over to Target next.”

Well, maybe it was funnier while we were sitting on the ice.

Anyway, those days of following the plow trucks may soon be behind us. The Japanese, who are racing to build robots to take care of many needs as their population ages, have created a road-clearing ’bot that looks like a cross between a ladybug and a smiley face. The prototype Yuki-taro scoops up snow and compresses it into solid blocks, which it then stacks on its bed. (Click here to check it out.)

Presumably, the working versions of the bots would offload the blocks themselves and return to the job without the need of a human crew to fingerprint the ice cubes. I wonder if they could teach them to make igloos?