Self-Guided Robot Making Polar Travel Safer

The Yeti robot uses ground-penetrating radar to map crevasses hidden in ice-covered terrains.

Researchers funded by the National Science Foundation have developed a self-guided robot that uses ground-penetrating radar to map crevasses hidden in ice-covered terrains. They believe the robot, named Yeti, will make Arctic and Antarctic explorations and missions to resupply remote scientific stations safer, NSF reported March 1.

It is probably the first robot to successfully deploy in the field that is able to identify hazards beneath the thin cover of snow, NSF reported.

It was tested in Greenland's Inland Traverse, an over-ice supply train from Thule in the north of Greenland to NSF's Summit Station on the ice cap, and in NSF's South Pole Traverse, a 1,031-mile, over-ice trek from McMurdo Station in Antarctica to the South Pole. A team of researchers from the U.S. Army's Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory and the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College, along with a student at Stanford University's neuroscience program, have published their findings in the Journal of Field Robotics.

"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 CRREL's James Lever. He said robots can not only improve safety, but also they have the potential to reduce the costs of logistical support of science in emote polar regions.

Yeti weighs 180 pounds. It is a battery-powered, four-wheel-drive vehicle able to operate in temperatures as low as -30 Celsius (-20 Fahrenheit). It was developed with funding from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.Students of Lever and Laura Ray, at Dartmouth, also a principal investigator on the Yeti project and a co-author of the paper, designed and created a predecessor named Cool Robot that was funded by NSF's Division of Polar Programs to conduct work in Antarctica.

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