News | Mar 9, 2018

New Hampshire startup addresses road salt redundancies, grows with Air Force technology

News Article Image of New Hampshire startup addresses road salt redundancies, grows with Air Force technology

A truck plows Fowler River Road in Alexandria, New Hampshire, on Christmas Day. (New Hampshire Department of Transportation)

MANCHESTER, N.H.– After seven years working as a merchant mariner aboard chemical tankers in the Gulf of Mexico and dabbling in various projects during his vacation time, Andrew Jaccoma caught the entrepreneurial bug, joined the University of New Hampshire’s MBA program, and in 2012 founded Sensible Spreader Technologies.

Jaccoma, 35, is the managing partner and a participant in the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Commercialization Academy where he’s found additional support for the continual development of a new technology for the winter road maintenance industry.

Sensible Spreader, as the name implies, has developed a technology called coverage indication which uses wireless sensors, mobile devices, and cloud computing to indicate to winter road maintenance operators the roads that have been treated/plowed and those that haven’t, helping them to keep city streets clear of snow and ice with fewer missed roads and fewer redundant efforts.

“While I was pursuing an MBA, I went ‘need-finding’ and ended up learning about the harmful effects of sodium chloride (road salt) on infrastructure and the negative effects on the environment,” Jaccoma said. “It seemed as though the winter road maintenance industry was ripe for innovation.”

Studies show that road salt corrodes concrete surfaces, bridge steel, and decking. Salt can also extend the freeze-thaw cycles leading to more potholes over time.

Like many Northern states, New Hampshire has a handful of chloride-impaired watersheds in areas where high traffic roadways traverse aquatic ecosystems. A good example of this in New Hampshire is the section of Interstate 93 that runs between Manchester and the Massachusetts border towards Boston. This section of I-93 is currently undergoing an expansion that will increase the amount of salt exposure within these already chloride-laden watersheds, meaning state and local governments will likely be seeing increasing pressures to reduce and monitor salt usage by environmental agencies.

Andrew Jaccoma

Learning about the environmental challenges facing the industry and about municipal winter road maintenance operations led to Sensible Spreader’s solution.

Winter road maintenance operators, on their assigned routes, must remember where they’ve applied salt and communicate with other operators to avoid redundant applications. These coordination efforts are typically carried out via voice communications. As you can imagine, fleet coordination can be very complex when attempting to maintain complex infrastructures like those common in and around urban areas.

While avoiding other ships in crowded sea lanes, Jaccoma had used the target trail function of the ship’s radar–a virtual snail trail behind radar contacts that allows navigators to avoid collision courses.

“It was one of my favorite functions for traversing the Straits of Florida where you have dozens of fishing boats bearing down on you at any given time,” he said. “You can distill their direction based on their history and quickly identify dangerous targets. I felt that the winter road maintenance operators could also benefit from seeing time-based trails based on their salting history.”

The company’s coverage indication technology allows winter road maintenance operators to see a digital map as a reference tool on the plow truck’s dashboard, which indicates the streets that have been plowed and salted, and wirelessly communicates that information to the rest of the maintenance fleet in real-time, so everyone can see what has and hasn’t been done. Overlays of environmentally-sensitive zones, e.g., wellhead protection areas, can also be placed on the map in order to alert operators of salt-sensitive areas.

Early adopters of the technology include almost a dozen municipalities throughout Northern New England and Sensible Spreader has also begun sales to commercial outfits.

In 2016, Jaccoma pitched his technology at the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Demo Day. Hosted by the Griffiss Institute and Wasabi Ventures, he took home a $20,000 prize, using it to better position the technology for the future development of a new feature that looks to take advantage of an invention by the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Information Directorate.

The company also includes: Chris Dundorf, chief operations officer and mechanical lead, Don Spencer, chief technology officer and electrical systems lead, and Chris Rakowski, chief software lead.

With assistance from AFRL’s Commercialization Academy and TechLink, Sensible Spreaders signed a patent license agreement for fatigue management software developed at the Air Force laboratory.

As a new feature, the application will help winter road maintenance operators manage their schedules for safety, ensuring they’re well rested before getting on the road.

The Air Force Research Laboratory Commercialization Academy is a Griffiss Institute program for startups led by Wasabi Ventures.

“Our programs prepare entrepreneurs who want to make new products and services out of Air Force inventions,” said Michele Pesula Kuegler, Wasabi’s director of the academy. “This helps grow the economy and hopefully see new technology products available to the Department of Defense.”

Since 2014, the Air Force Commercialization Academy has helped over two dozen startups become viable companies.

“It’s been fun to see the Griffiss Institute introduce entrepreneurs to AFRL’s technology,” said Sean Patten, TechLink’s senior technology manager who facilitates patent license agreements for the academy. “Most people don’t realize that DoD labs are centers of innovation that can help businesses grow.”

Troy Carter can be reached at troy.carter@montana.edu or 406-994-7798.

Headshot Image of Sean Patten, CLP

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