Robotic polar rover passes test in harsh Greenland environment

July 9, 2013 at 2:56 PM
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GREENBELT, Md., July 9 (UPI) -- NASA says a polar robotic rover passed a test in Greenland, proving that even in sub-zero temperatures and high winds it can operate completely autonomously.

The robot known as GROVER, which stands for both Greenland Rover and Goddard Remotely Operated Vehicle for Exploration and Research, was designed by teams of students attending engineering camps at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., in the summers of 2010 and 2011.

Built to carry a ground-penetrating radar to analyze layers of snow and ice, the rover was tested in Greenland in May and June in winds of 30 mph and at temperatures of minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit, NASA reported Monday.

Boise State University has been running tests, with NASA funding, to fine-tune the rover.

Although GROVER had been tested at a beach in Maryland and in the snow in Idaho, the Greenland test proved the robot could execute commands sent from a satellite connection.

"When we saw it moving and travelling to the locations our professor had keyed in from Boise, we knew all of our hard work had paid off," graduate student Gabriel Trisca said. "GROVER has grown to be a fully-autonomous, GPS-guided and satellite-linked platform for scientific research."

GROVER collected and stored radar data over 18 miles during the five weeks it spent on the Greenland ice.

"When you work at the poles, on the ice, it's cold, it's tiring, it's expensive and there's a limit to how much ground you can cover on snowmobiles," Lora Koenig, a NASA glaciologist at Goddard, said. "It would be great if autonomous robotic platforms could do part of this work -- especially the part where high winds and blowing snow try to freeze your skin."

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