Yeti also carried an onboard computer and signal processing board, a ground-penetrating radar and an ultra-precise GPS to plot its path forward and map small ice ridges, called sastrugi, that resemble tiny frozen sand dunes.
"We're just trying to prove a robot is able to collect data humans would collect," Lane said, a few hours after he and Lee landed on the ice sheet and unpacked Yeti from its travel crate. "Our goal is to use autonomous robots to drag a variety of scientific equipment."
Over the next seven days, the two engineers' work was cut short by bad weather and altitude sickness, but Ray, who supervised their work on Yeti over the past year, said she's happy with the robot's progress. Yeti was able to execute a "square wave" pattern of repeating north-east-north-west turns and aced test trips of 3 to 4 kilometers.
Charging ahead, 24 hours a day
That experience will aid Ray's team as they develop an improved version of Yeti's solar-powered sibling, Cool Robot, which they believe is more suited to collecting data for scientists studying the poles.
"It can drive as long as the sun is up, and in the polar regions in summertime, the sun is up 24 hours a day," Lever said. "So you can considerably extend the reach of science parties out into the continent [of Antarctica] or onto the Greenland ice cap by using a robot that's solar-powered."
The researchers hope to send Cool Robot on a long test journey in 2013, perhaps to accompany NSF's annual supply trek across Greenland's ice. To prepare, they're redesigning Cool Robot's solar panel box to make it lighter and reshaping the robot's overall profile to help it resist being overturned by strong winds.
"Our goal is for any scientist that needs to collect data to be able to borrow one of these robots, or buy one," Lane said. "They can go day and night at the same speed. They don't make errors like humans do."
Still, the team behind Yeti Robot and Cool Robot doesn't think that its rovers -- or other machines -- will ever completely supplant humans at the poles.
"I don't think we'll ever replace scientists in the field," Lever said. "The intention is to expand their reach."
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500