California Department of Transportation

Cone Machine

The AHMCT Cone Machine is a safe and efficient method of placing and retrieving highway cones during roadway lane closures.

AHMCT Cone Machine
AHMCT Cone Machine
(Please click picture for the video.)

Most highway maintenance and construction operations require a means of separating the work zone from lanes of traffic, and traffic cones are one of the most common items used to delineate these work areas. However, present methods of deploying traffic cones require considerable manual effort and expose workers to the hazards of traffic. This vehicle automatically lays down cones at regular intervals, and then picks them up again later. A single operator can safely and quickly open and close busy lanes during construction or maintenance.


Currently, traffic cones are deployed by a person riding on the exterior of a modified vehicle. This person is typically either standing in a basket at the end of a truck or sitting near ground level between the axles of the customized cone body truck. On the current Caltrans cone truck, two horizontal stacks of cones are fed by conveyor to a worker who then places or retrieves the cones while another person drives the vehicle.

In 1990, The State of California paid out $36,000 in injury claims related to manual cone laying. This increased over 10 time in four years to $321,000 in 1994. Available statistics suggest that this trend of increasing costs is continuing.

The AHMCT Center has developed a machine that can automatically place and retrieve traffic cones. This machine fits onto existing Caltrans traffic cone trucks and all operations are controlled from within the cab by either the driver or a second operator.

A typical lane configuration uses 80 traffic cones for each 1.5 miles of lane closure. Traffic cones come in various sizes up to 36 inches high. Caltrans uses a 28 inch high cone that weighs 10 pounds. When cones are being carried to and from stacks on the bed of a truck, personnel are restricted from carrying more than 3 cones at one time and this operation of manually transferring the cones is often performed on the roadway.

The AHMCT machine places cones in the forward travel direction and retrieves them in either forward or reverse directions at speeds up to 10 mph. The machine is designed so that no on-site set-up is required, and both deployment and stowage of the mechanism is simple and fast. The entire operation is under control of the driver, who remains in the truck cab during both deployment and retrieval. The machine is designed so that manual operation, as currently performed, is still be possible in the event of unusual circumstances.

Deign Features

  • By default, the Cone Machine handles generic 28 inch highway cone. It can be readily modified to handle other sizes of cones.
  • The Cone Machine is controlled using simple switches.
  • The automated equipment occupies minimal space on standard trucks. A standard vehicle envelope is maintained when not handling cones.
  • By default, 80 cones can be stored in stacks laying on side. The carrying capacity can be readily modified.
  • Cones can be placed in the forward direction, on either the left or right side.
  • In the default configuration, you can automatically space cones every 25, 50 or 100 feet and while traveling at a speed of 10 MPH. Spacing choices are readily modified.
  • You can retrieve upright or knocked-over up cones on either the left or right side while traveling either in a forward or reverse direction.

Deployment Report: Automated Cone Machine