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.”
Pyramid of the Sun Turning to Dust 2014 03 10 All we are is dust in the wind, so the saying goes, but it’s troubling when it happens to great ancient monuments that we assume will be around forever.
Pyramid of the Sun, Pirámide del Sol, Teotihuacán, México (Wikimedia Commons)
New Scientist reports that the Pyramid of the Sun in Mexico is turning to dust and could collapse:
The Pyramid of the ...
Elephants Never Forget A Voice 2014 03 10
According to a new study, wild elephants are discerning listeners who can differentiate between various human languages, genders, ages, and more. Such surprising skills continue to marvel researchers.
Not all the intellectual surprises are on the large animal front. Research has shown that crows are extremely intelligent, some dogs recognize over a thousand words and have the intellect of a toddler, ...
RIP, psychiatry: the “chemical-imbalance” theory is dead 2014 03 10 This one is big.
Dr. Ronald Pies, the editor-in-chief emeritus of the Psychiatric Times, laid the theory to rest in the July 11, 2011, issue of the Times with this staggering admission:
“In truth, the ‘chemical imbalance’ notion was always a kind of urban legend — never a theory seriously propounded by well-informed psychiatrists.”
The point is, for decades the whole basis of ...
Space Elevator By 2035, Says International Academy of Astronautics 2014 03 10
Going up? Way up?
The space elevator - An idea which used to be pure speculative science fiction has gained renewed interest.
ExtremeTech.com lays out the technical challenges of the audacious (crazy?) plan to extend the 100,000-kilometers-long tether into space. Especially problematic to the mission is the fact that the materials and technology needed to create the space elevator don’t actually exist ...
One million Britons descended from Vikings says new study 2014 03 10
A new study is showing that approximately 930,000 people can claim to be of direct Viking descent in Great Britain today, especially in the north of Scotland. The ancient Norse peoples’ influence is still being felt in modern times.
Around one million Britons are directly related to Vikings, with people from the north of Scotland most likely to have Viking ...