Yeti Robot Finds Deadly Antarctic Crevasses So We Don’t Have To
2013 03 08

By Jason Bittel | Slate


You’re traveling more than 1,000 miles across the barren snowscape of Antarctica. Along the way, many crevasses lie hidden between you and your quest to resupply the hungry scientists at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. The good news is you can detect these deathtraps with a radar arm. The bad news is it only gives you approximately four seconds of warning before you and your tracked vehicle, which weighs several tons, plummet to a dark and silent tomb. If only there were a robot that could map crevasses ahead of such expeditions. Preferably one with an adorable yet mildly ferocious name.

Meet the Yeti. This four-wheel-drive rover drags a ground-penetrating radar arm capable of logging information that tells scientists what lies—or more importantly, doesn’t lie—below. At just 180 pounds, the bot crosses snow-covered crevasses like it ain’t no thing. (Since people don’t wander around on foot down there, the real danger is the heavy tracked vehicles breaking through the snow bridges.) It functions at temperatures around -20 degrees Fahrenheit. In short, Yeti is an awesome little minion redrawing the boundaries of hazard georeferencing.

Most of us don’t have to think about such things, but doing science on the bottom of the world is a tricky endeavor. In addition to dangerous weather conditions and 30-foot-wide trapdoors in the ice, the logistics of assembling personnel, equipment, and supplies at the South Pole is nothing short of extraordinary.

“The focus of this effort was to support the actual operations and logistics side of the Polar Program,” James Lever, mechanical engineer and specialist in over-snow mobility for the U.S. Army’s Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory, told me. (I bet you never heard a kindergartener say she wants to grow up to specialize in over-snow mobility.) Lever and his co-principal investigator professor Laura Ray published their findings this month in the Journal of Field Robotics. “Whether you have researchers in Antarctica or Greenland, you have to keep people safe and comfortable. You’re a long way from everything else and so it’s expensive to do science there.”

The little Yeti—and its predecessor, the solar-powered Cool Robot—have found support from the operations and science arms of the National Science Foundation as well as NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory—after all, rover work on Earth’s poles isn’t so different from rover work on Mars or other celestial bodies. And the lessons we learn from tweaking Yeti may one day help us in space. For instance, one of the paper’s coauthors from the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College is developing an algorithm to detect characteristic moments just before Yeti gets stuck. If the algorithm can prevent the bot from getting into jams in the first place, it saves Lever and his colleagues an annoying trip out into the white. For NASA on the other hand, an immobilized rover is a really expensive bummer. For as Lever put it, “They don’t get theirs back.”

[...]

Read the full article at: slate.com








Related Articles


Latest News from our Front Page

Extremists to have Facebook and Twitter vetted by anti-terror police
2014 09 30
Theresa May to announce new Extremist Disruption Orders to strengthen counter-terrorism if the Tories win the next general election Extremists will have to get posts on Facebook and Twitter approved in advance by the police under sweeping rules planned by the Conservatives. They will also be barred from speaking at public events if they represent a threat to “the functioning of democracy”, ...
Water rationing hits California: limit of 50 gallons per person per day or face fines of $500
2014 09 29
Millions of Californians are about to be hit with strict water rationing -- daily "allocation" numbers that represent the maximum amount of water you’re allowed to use for any purpose. Households that exceed the allocation limit will face stiff fines of hundreds of dollars per violation. "In July, the State Water Resources Control Board passed stage one emergency regulations, giving powers ...
Much of Earth’s Water is Older than the Sun
2014 09 29
Much of the water on Earth and elsewhere in the solar system likely predates the birth of the sun, a new study reports. The finding suggests that water is commonly incorporated into newly forming planets throughout the Milky Way galaxy and beyond, researchers said — good news for anyone hoping that Earth isn’t the only world to host life. “The implications of ...
Did the Vikings Get a Bum Rap?
2014 09 29
A Yale historian wants us to rethink the terrible tales about the Norse. This illustration shows the stereotype of Viking marauders wreaking mayhem, even on clergy. The scene depicts the monastery at Clonmacnoise, Ireland. The Vikings gave no quarter when they stormed the city of Nantes, in what is now western France, in June 843—not even to the monks barricaded in the ...
David Cameron Says Non-Violent Conspiracy Theorists Are Just As Dangerous As ISIS
2014 09 29
David Cameron told the U.N. that "non-violent extremism" is just as dangerous as terrorism and must be eradicated using all means at the government’s disposal. He references 9/11 and 7/7 Truthers as examples of the type of extremism that must be dealt in a similar fashion to ISIS. If you thought Obama’s War is Peace speech to the U.N. was creepy, ...
More News »