NASA has just completed a field test of its new solar-powered polar rover. The new robot named GROVER, which stands for Goddard Remotely Operated Vehicle for Exploration and Research, has passed an extreme environment test in the harshest part of Greenland. The wind gusts were 30mph+, with temperatures down to minus 22°F.
Backed by NASA, but actually built by a team of students attending a boot camp at Goddard, GROVER proved to be built to withstand extreme polar conditions. The robot will help scientists to analyze layers of snow and ice using ground-penetrating radar.
This was not the first actual test for GROVER. Researchers had tested it at a beach in Maryland and in snow conditions in Idaho. But this was its first polar experience at Summit Camp, the highest spot in Greenland, where it proved it could execute commands remotely from a satellite connection. GROVER spent a little over a month in the extreme conditions at Summit Camp from May 6th to June 8th.
Over its five-week trek through the polar region, which covered 18 miles, the robot was able to collect and store data while transmitting self diagnostic’s in real-time. The researchers had hoped that GROVER would be able to operate around the clock, but the extreme conditions forced the robot to recharge its solar-charged batteries every 12 hours.
Even though GROVER could only perform in 12-hour intervals, that’s still better than a human trying to do research in those conditions.
According to Lora Koenig, a glaciologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, “When you work at the poles, on the ice, its cold, it’s tiring, it’s expensive and there’s a limit to how much ground you can cover on snowmobiles. 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.”
One of the team’s goals is to have GROVER transmit its radar information in real-time like its computer diagnostics.They plan on setting GROVER up to communicate with a geostationary satellite connection that will let the robot transmit large volumes of data in real-time.
“Other possible changes include replacing components that are hard to manipulate in the cold (like switches and wires), merging the two onboard computers to reduce energy consumption, and using wind generators to create more power or adding a sled carrying additional solar panels.”
During the field test, another robot was tested called CoolRobot that was smaller and non-autonomous, built by Dartmouth College. The researchers are hoping to one day to be able to take a team of robots that can work together.
The researchers believe this could expand the coverage that a large robot like GROVER could cover and maybe even bring the smaller robots back to the larger one to recharge. “An army of polar robots – that would be neat,” Koenig said.
This accomplishment by a team of students is admirable and the fact that GROVER is functioning properly on solar power in Greenland’s extreme environment is certainly noteworthy.
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