Published on July 15th, 2013 | by Tim Tyler


NASA GROVER Solar-Powered Robot Performs In Harsh Greenland Climate

July 15th, 2013 by  

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.


Image: GROVER via NASA

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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About the Author

Holds an electronic's engineering degree and is working toward a second degree in IT/web development. Enjoy's renewable energy topic's and has a passion for the environment. Part time writer and web developer, full time husband and father.

  • JamesWimberley

    Electronic components work better in the cold, cf. Mars rovers.

  • Wayne Williamson

    Looks like they might work until the first 60 mph gust….need some little outrider stabilizers, just little cheapy spring loaded wheels or skids to keep it from turning on its side. Oh and I do like the comments on the picture…the sun is coming from the back of the guy so the panels aren’t getting any;-)

    After thinking again, the platform should be over 2 meters on a side and put 4 panels on it, one on each side tilted in, probably make sure the interior is sealed..ok now while we are at it, put a couple of panels on top.

    See I just fixed the engineering issue and probably raised the cost by 300 percent;-) Ok, not such an elegant solution….

    • Bob_Wallace

      I see it fairly simple to mount these panels as single axis tilts that fold flat when the wind is up. The rover should be able to spin itself around so panels face the Sun.

      It also wouldn’t be involved to install retractable down-wind outriggers. Just one with a semi-wide foot should keep the unit from going side-over in a sudden gust while the panel was folding down.

      As it is the current angle is wrong and the ‘backside’ panel is out of the game.

  • Hans Dampf

    Note the importer (US-military) and the job of the machine: collecting data

  • jburt56

    Note vertical orientation of the panels.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Looks like someone slept through the class on panel orientation.

      I’m not getting the voices on the video, only sound effect/music.

      Maybe next year’s students will arrive with a clue….

    • Ronald Brakels

      On account of how the sun never gets very high in Greenland.

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