November 1, 2021

Local tech, big and small, answers winter’s call

Winter is coming, and with it the need for accurate weather forecasting, safety in the backcountry and a bit of labor saving as well. The Boulder Valley’s entrepreneurial appetite for advanced technology continues to answer the call.

The old snow shovel is just so 20th century. The self-driving SnowBot Pro from five-year-old and Longmont-based Left Hand Robotics is like a Roomba for a driveway, sidewalk or path, clearing snow away with a rotating brush. It uses GPS technology to follow a pattern its owner lays out, uses lasers and thermal imaging to avoid hitting obstacles, and sends out an alert to its user’s app if it encounters a problem. With its beefed-up motor, this battery-powered beast can travel up to 7 miles per hour but probably moves at half that speed when it’s clearing snow. Residential and commercial units are available, and there’s an extra fee to subscribe for its data storage and cloud software. But, hey, it’ll work through the night or during a snowstorm, and you don’t have to bring it any hot chocolate. It can brush in front and apply de-icer in back. 

Want more? How about a mower? In summer, just detach the front snow brush and install a mowing deck and use the de-icer spreader to spread grass seed instead. Not surprisingly, Left Hand Robotics was acquired this year by The Toro Co., a Minnesota-based lawn-mower manufacturer.

Too much snow? Colorado leads the nation in the rate of avalanche-related deaths, averaging about six per year. Boulder-based Backcountry Access can help rescuers find you if you’re trapped in a snowslide. Its flagship BCA Tracker4 Avalanche Transceiver is a small and light beacon that includes a harness and batteries. The company also makes a T4 Avalanche Rescue Package including the Tracker4, an extendable B-1 EXT avalanche shovel and quick-deploying Stealth 270 Avalanche Probe. Just remember not to put your Tracker close to your cell phone; it’ll disrupt the signal.

What weather hazards await? Louisville-based Vaisala specializes in weather, environmental and industrial measurement products that provide accurate, reliable data. It’s currently contracted with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to supply cloud-to-ground lightning-detection data for forecast operations and weather research. Vaisala is supplying NOAA’s National Weather Service with precision lightning data from its National Lightning Detection Network and global lightning detection data from its Global Lightning Dataset GLD360. A few years back it donated a new C-band radar system to Colorado State University for tracking precipitation, and Xcel Energy used its Due Diligence Services for development of its 600-megawatt Rush Creek Wind Farm. Its sensors also can provide real-time road information to be used by municipal street departments and entities such as the Colorado Department of Transportation and the E-470 Authority, as well as driverless vehicles, and NOAA has used its dropsondes to help monitor hurricanes.

Boulder-based Orbital Microsystems is building cost-saving satellites that can gather real-time weather data as well, by taking temperature readings in the atmosphere using sensors developed by a researcher at the University of Colorado Boulder. The company says the sensors collect data five times more detailed than satellites federal forecasters use, with telemetry delivered every 15 minutes. It first deployed its IOD-1 GEMS Earth Observation satellite from the International Space Station in July 2019; GEMS stands for Global Environmental Monitoring System. Last March it unveiled its next-generation GEMS2 satellites including state-of-the-art microwave radiometer that provides temperature, humidity and precipitation observations from multiple altitudes in the mid-stratosphere. Its target markets are agriculture, aviation and insurance. In October, the company announced it had entered into a formal agreement with British firm Thomas Keating Ltd. to advance the development of millimeter-wave instruments for OMS’ cubesats.

So does all that bad weather have you stuck at home and trying to keep the kids occupied? There’s also the educational robots and STEAM kits for kids and teens produced by Boulder-based Sphero, creators of the BB-8 droid of “Star Wars” fame. The Sphero Mini Robot Ball is ideal for educators to send home with the kids, who can advance from playing with it to programming it with block-based coding or Javascript. It has a gyroscope, accelerometer and LED lights. The company also offers robotics learning kits that come with course books — serious and yet fun, rather like Legos on steroids.

Winter is coming, and with it the need for accurate weather forecasting, safety in the backcountry and a bit of labor saving as well. The Boulder Valley’s entrepreneurial appetite for advanced technology continues to answer the call.

The old snow shovel is just so 20th century. The self-driving SnowBot Pro from five-year-old and Longmont-based Left Hand Robotics is like a Roomba for a driveway, sidewalk or path, clearing snow away with a rotating brush. It uses GPS technology to follow a pattern its owner lays out, uses lasers and thermal imaging to avoid hitting obstacles, and sends out an alert to…

Dallas Heltzell
With BizWest since 2012 and in Colorado since 1979, Dallas worked at the Longmont Times-Call, Colorado Springs Gazette, Denver Post and Public News Service. A Missouri native and Mizzou School of Journalism grad, Dallas started as a sports writer and outdoor columnist at the St. Charles (Mo.) Banner-News, then went to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch before fleeing the heat and humidity for the Rockies. He especially loves covering our mountain communities.
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