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3 intriguing inventions that aim to minimize winter hazards

The winter months bring seasonal hazards and annoyances from slick roadways to piles of snow that need to be removed quickly for those living in colder climates.

While much of the technology used to mitigate winter weather risks is still standard, scientists, hobbyists and university students are exploring new and exciting technologies to minimize human effort.

Robots that do the heavy lifting

When it comes to heavy snowfall, many of Japan's major cities top the list for some of the snowiest populated areas in the world.

While industrial snow-throwers are often used by governments, the average civilian may be tasked with removing some snow themselves. In the future, robots might be able to do all the hard work for you and could be more affordable.

This adorable Japanese robot Yuki-taro was created by engineers in the city of Niigata, who stated in 2013 that they could have a marketable version ready within five years. It is expected to retail for under 1 million yen, or $9,000, according to an Inventorspot.com report.

Yuki-taro is a self guided, GPS-robot that ingests the snow through the front and compresses it into consolidated bricks of ice out the back. In addition, it has cameras that help guide it and keep it from venturing off course.

While the Yuki-taro project has had trouble gaining investors over the past three years, according to a recent Investorspot.com article, the prospect of snow-removing robots is still moving forward.

Do-it-yourself kits are already available from hobbyists and engineering companies. The ideaLaboratories RoboPlow is just one of many remote-controlled robots in development that can help shovel walkways and driveways, all while staying inside.

Solar roadways that melt ice and snow

In addition to generating renewable energy, solar cells implemented on highways could help keep roads free of snow and ice during the winter months, reducing costs for transportation departments.

Startup company Solar Roadways has been developing solar technologies that can be withstand the weight of a car and can be used on roadways.

These technologies can also be installed on driveways, patios, sidewalks, parking lots and more.

"The heating elements in the panels prevent snow and ice accumulation, providing safer surfaces for both drivers and pedestrians," according to the company's website.

In the past two decades, the cost of photovoltaic technologies has fallen, making solar energy more accessible to consumers than ever before. Combined with federal, state and local incentives, consumers and commercial enterprises are seeing the benefits to the clean, renewable energy source.

Green chemicals and beet juice combine to prevent ice and snow buildup

Even though rock salt is still utilized heavily for ice and snow melt on roadways, some municipalities and transportation departments have been looking for a environmentally-friendly alternative.

In Wisconsin and Minnesota, cheese brine has been used since 2008 by Polk County officials, according to a Time report. However, while it can be used as a salt substitute, concerns over its environmental impact have been raised.

In some parts of the country, a mix of beet juice and rock salt is being used to reduce the environmental impacts from runoff, according to the Chicago Tribune.

"Road-salt runoff has created a survival-of-the fittest among plants near busy roads and has caused chloride levels to spike in local rivers and lakes, in some cases violating water quality standards," environmentalists told the Chicago Tribune.

By utilizing a mix of sugar beet juice and salt, the solution has proven highly effective, but is pricy.

In addition, a corn byproduct has also been used to remove ice in the past, according to the report.

"Illinois Department of Transportation has stopped using it due to the expense, and because the coffee-colored mix might have left some sort of film on windshields," department spokesman Mike Claffey told the Tribune.

As of now, many of the futuristic technologies are not marketable to the public, but that hasn't stopped creative minds from coming up with new ideas to fight against the wintry weather.

Earlier this year, Harvard students unveiled several inventions that were designed specifically to reduce the problems caused by snow and cold weather.

"Eighteen juniors representing several engineering disciplines in professor David Mooney's problem-solving and design class spent the fall semester inventing a robotic remote-control rooftop snowblower, a superheated icicle cutter and a freeze-resistant doormat," according to Dailymail.com.

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