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.”
Pre-historic tokens used in conjunction with cuneiform 2014 07 22
An archaeological dig in southeast Turkey has uncovered a large number of clay tokens that were used as records of trade until the advent of writing, or so it had been believed. But a new find of tokens, dates from a time when writing was commonplace – thousands of years after it was previously assumed this technology had become obsolete.
Are immigration opponents Nazis? 2014 07 22
It seems the usual suspects are calling anyone who opposes unlimited immigration to be a "Nazi". The Left seems to be in constant fear of "Nazis" that lurk in public policy discussions and I assume under their beds. If you oppose any Leftist position, you are a.... take a wild guess...wait for it.... a NAZI! Tim Wise recently went ...
What Did US Spy Satellites See in Ukraine? 2014 07 22 Exclusive: The U.S. media’s Ukraine bias has been obvious, siding with the Kiev regime and bashing ethnic Russian rebels and Russia’s President Putin. But now – with the scramble to blame Putin for the Malaysia Airlines shoot-down – the shoddy journalism has grown truly dangerous, says Robert Parry.
In the heat of the U.S. media’s latest war hysteria – rushing to ...
Oh, Great: Robots Are Set to Conduct National Security Clearance Interviews 2014 07 22 Advancing a career in the US government might soon require an interview with a computer-generated head who wants to know about that time you took ketamine.
Psychologists at the National Center for Credibility Assessment (NCCA) are developing an interview system that uses a responsive on-screen avatar for the first stage of the national security clearance process.
Initial screening for a variety ...
Is Anything on the Internet Real Anymore? 2014 07 22
Is there anybody…out there?
I promise I’m a real person asking this question and typing this article…but beyond that, I can’t promise much else about anything you or I see on the Internet.
This article on ZDNet, “GCHQ’s dark arts: Leaked documents reveal online manipulation, Facebook, YouTube snooping,” confirms — beyond a shadow of any possible doubt — that a barrage of ...