Robot can help in polar expeditions

March 4, 2013 at 4:32 PM
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WASHINGTON, March 4 (UPI) -- An autonomous robot dubbed "Yeti" could help explorers in the arctic and Antarctica avoid deadly crevasses hidden in ice-covered landscapes, researchers say.

Researchers funded by the National Science Foundation have successfully tested a self-guided robot that uses ground-penetrating radar to map hidden crevasses, an NSF release reported.

Such unseen fissures buried beneath ice and snow could potentially claim human lives and expensive equipment during scientific and exploratory expeditions, the researchers said.

Yeti has been tested in Greenland in an over-ice supply expedition from Thule in the north of Greenland to NSF's Summit Station on the ice cap, and in Antarctica in a 1,031-mile, over-ice trek from McMurdo Station to the South Pole.

"Polar exploration is not unlike space missions; we put people into the field where it is expensive and it is dangerous to do science," said James Lever the U.S. Army's Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory.

Yeti weighs 180-pounds and the battery powered, four-wheel drive vehicle is capable of operating in temperatures as low as minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit. An on-board GPS system allows it to navigate and plot the position of under-ice hazards.

Yeti and similar robots could not only improve safety but also have the potential to reduce the costs of logistical support of science in remote polar regions, Lever said, and could extend the capabilities of researchers.

"We're not going to replace the scientists," he said. "But what we can do is extend their reach and add to the science mission."

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