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Robotics Earth Technology

Polar Robots to Explore the Arctic 98

Roland Piquepaille writes "It's now almost certain that the world's ice shelves are melting. And while satellites provide lots of data about their evolution, ground-based weather stations could be even more useful. But if scientists can no longer stay on fragile and volatile ice sheets, what can they do? They can use specially designed robots called SnoMotes developed by U.S. researchers. 'The SnoMotes work as a team, autonomously collaborating among themselves to cover all the necessary ground to gather assigned scientific measurements.' More importantly, a SnoMote is an 'expendable rover that wouldn't break a research team's bank if it were lost during an experiment,' according to the lead researcher." Reader coondoggie adds a link to another story on these robots at Network World.
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Polar Robots to Explore the Arctic

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  • by quarrel ( 194077 ) on Wednesday May 28, 2008 @01:55PM (#23573513)
    'cause like, polar robots have something better to explore than like the *poles* ?

  • Extreme temperatures (Score:3, Interesting)

    by RandoX ( 828285 ) on Wednesday May 28, 2008 @01:58PM (#23573545)
    Wonder what those temperatures will do to the battery life? Could a battery compartment warmer allow more battery life than it costs?
    • Batteries at lower temperatures tend to have longer lives, don't they? I know on most rechargables you can toss the battery into a freezer to grow the primer charge enough for it to actually charge on a charger. Or am I wrong?
    • While the SnoMotes are expected to pass their first real field test in Alaska next month, a heartier, more cold-resistant version will be needed for the Antarctic and other well below zero climates, Howard said. These new rovers would include a heater to keep circuitry warm enough to function and sturdy plastic exterior that wouldnâ(TM)t become brittle in extreme cold.

      So yes. Yes indeed a warmer will be necessary when going to the Antarctic, but not for the Arctic. On a not quite completely unrelated note, I wonder if they could strap a little wind power generator to these suckers - it could really extend their usability in the field.

    • Although not suffering the defects of battery powered robots in cold conditions these NOAH financed UAV's http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/7421297.stm [bbc.co.uk] will also be tasked with keeping an eye on things at the top of the world.
    • There is clearly already a solution since the various NASA robots have worked fine on Mars and although they are solar powered they will require batteries so they don't have to turn completely off during the night.
  • ...my job yet, that's what :P

    When machines first began taking over jobs during the inception of the industrial revolution, I recall there being much resistance.

    I wonder, as robots do begin to take the remaining jobs, will the same resistance be encountered?

    I, for one, so welcome our robotic, network-administering, garbage-collecting, smooth-jazz-composing, polar-region-exploring robot overlords.

    • Glorified Microscope (Score:5, Interesting)

      by bsDaemon ( 87307 ) on Wednesday May 28, 2008 @02:08PM (#23573679)
      A robot that goes out to collect data is just another scientific instrument to be used. Ultimately, people are still going to have to make sense of the data.

      It takes a certain kind of person to want to go out into extreme conditions to take measurements. Being able to make meaningful conclusions based on them in the field when you have other things to worry about also takes a special kind of person.

      Robots can go out, measure, and send back to you in your comfy office. The only sad thing is that we're moving towards a world of astronomers without astronauts, so to speak.

      Without the adventure there is a lot less to inspire 8 year olds -- imagine if the draw to NASA had been "hey, kids! you can wear starched shirts and use a slide rule!" instead of "you can be a kick-ass fighter pilot, get a FREE Corvette and wear an Omega watch!"

      The reality is that even the astronauts had to put on the starch and take out the slide rule, but that's not what you want to show kids up front.

      That its being shown to them now that space is mostly going to just get the machine treatment and astronauts aren't going to do much past float around not be able to go to the bathroom for a few weeks, its small wonder that the smart kids who have the wanderlust as well look at Marine Bio as the new Apollo.

      When I was substitute teaching about a year ago lots of kids wanted to be marine biologists. none of them were saying astronaut anymore.
    • I, for one, so welcome our robotic,


      I'm pretty sure our current network admin guy is a robot. I ask him the same questions, he never answers except to grunt, moan and mutter "just reboot the damn thing". Already done.


      Now there you're thinking. A roomba on steroids. Watch out slow moving cats!


      nope, too complicated. Try hip-hop. Should be able to write a BASIC program in about 30 seconds that will get you most of the way there.


    • Read my sig. Resistance is futile.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Cedric Tsui ( 890887 )
      Did you know that the London underground trains are designed to run autonomously? They don't. Because the union had an agreement that all the trains would be driven by them.

      Yes, 'robots' are taking over our jobs, and yes there is still quite the resistance.
      Not just from the people with the jobs either. A documentary on military UAVs (don't remember the name) suggested that sometime soon, commercial airplanes would fly completely automatically with one bored pilot onboard to make the passengers happy.
      • Did you know that the London underground trains are designed to run autonomously? They don't. Because the union had an agreement that all the trains would be driven by them.
        Sounds like a story you heard from a bloke down the pub. Some of the trains are so old they were in use way before that was even a possibility and the stations and track are older still.

        The more modern Docklands Light Railway does run automatically.
      • A documentary on military UAVs (don't remember the name) suggested that sometime soon, commercial airplanes would fly completely automatically with one bored pilot onboard to make the passengers happy.
        15 years ago.

    • Hold on, you mean robots aren't already writing all that smooth jazz junk? Could've fooled me./p

  • by Black-Man ( 198831 ) on Wednesday May 28, 2008 @02:03PM (#23573629)
    With the ice caps melting, do the 'bots get endangered species protection?
  • Why did it have to be the Arctic? I had a shoggoth joke ready to go.
  • Both poles? (Score:5, Funny)

    by oodaloop ( 1229816 ) on Wednesday May 28, 2008 @02:05PM (#23573649)
    I, for one, welcome our bi-polar robot overlords.
  • These robots will not only study global warming but reverse it. The problem that, since they're designed for the ice, they'll surely want the entire earth terraformed to their liking. I, for one, welcome our frosty robot overloads.
  • by MiniMike ( 234881 )
    Hope they float, even if they're cheap it's going to add up quickly...
  • Will be Northrend [worldofwarcraft.com], employed by Thottbot [thottbot.com]!
  • by Zaurus ( 674150 )
    Phew! At first I read that as "...explore your attic"
  • Expendable? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Frosty Piss ( 770223 ) on Wednesday May 28, 2008 @02:19PM (#23573867)

    More importantly, a SnoMote is an 'expendable rover that wouldn't break a research team's bank if it were lost during an experiment,' according to the lead researcher."
    So, when the battery gives out or the unit breaks down they are just going to leave these things out in the environment like garbage? Plastic and old batteries? Is this a good idea?
  • Do they combine to form a larger kick ass robot? Can they take on Devastator?
  • Not All (Score:1, Informative)

    by sycodon ( 149926 )
    Not all the world's ice shelves [nasa.gov] are melting
  • by querist ( 97166 ) on Wednesday May 28, 2008 @02:41PM (#23574215) Homepage
    Allowing these devices to function autonomously is going to be quite interesting. My research involved such issues, but only in mobile software agents. I've read, and been told by some of my then-fellow-students that autonomous land vehicles are more difficult to control than UAVs.

    Combining this type of cooperation with autonomous navigation and the "bidding" system described could have some interesting commercial applications, ranging from autonomous "taxis" and delivery vehicles (such as an office-wide or city-wide version of FedEx) to branching out the bidding algorithms to help automate search and rescue efforts. Imagine if a group of specialized bots could be dispatched to look for signs of life - a large number with basic sensory capabilities that could then call in one of a smaller number of more advanced bots? Perhaps even summoning something similar to the much-chided "buddy bot" discussed earler on Slashdot.

    I know the "buddy bot" seemed silly, but if you consider the more basic functions it could be very useful. It provides two-way communication with rescuers, so you can say "I'm alone" or "I'm here with two of my children, and one of them is bleeding badly", to "I'm trapped, but I'm otherwise OK." This could help rescuers better prioritise their efforts, much like triage on the field - if someone's bleeding badly, send help sooner, while the person who is trapped but otherwise safe can hang on a little longer, and then two lives are saved instead of only one. (I fully realize that type of situation may not always work out as desired - people lie, things can collapse further, etc.)

    I also have to commend Dr. Howard for her creativity in utilizing what was essentially an "off-the-shelf" component for the main device - the little snow-mobile. Very well suited for the majority of the terrain for which it is designed.

    There is much more behind this work than first meets the eye. I'll be quite interested in watching this one develop further. Now where did my 9-year-old put that Mindstorms NXT?
  • http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/ [uiuc.edu] Not only are they not melting its pretty obvious the antarctic is in growth.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Gat0r30y ( 957941 )
      For anyone curious, the link feeds you straight to a fairly convincing data set which would lead me to the opposite conclusion. Indeed since 2002 it would appear there has been a slight increase in the area of the Antarctic sea ice, here is a neat graph [uiuc.edu]. 6 years does not a significant trend make my friend. Additionally, the overwhelming theme of the data is the significant loss multi-year sea ice - the stuff that sticks around in the summer. How precisely did you interpret this data to draw the conclusion
      • Aww. You beat me to the post.
        Though. I'd say that's a crappy graph. It shows the data.

        This graph [uiuc.edu] shows the trend. It subtracts the total area of sea ice in each season against the average in that season for the last thirty years, and then plots that on a truncated scale.

        It clearly shows that the recent blip is (1) a blip and (2) not that big on the scale of things.
        • The graph the parent post links to shows sheet ice area in the antarctic, the one you refer to shows sheet ice anomaly in the arctic. From the two you can work out that total world sheet ice is at a record high since records began. Not that thirty years of records are enough to draw definite conclusions from, gut that data certainly doesn't support the notion of global warming. More like unipolar warming.
    • I thought I'd check out your link.
      I believe that the sea ice is melting, but agree it's probably grown this year from the crazy cold winter (for which I've yet to hear of a cause).

      But I figure. I could be wrong. Maybe the website does have credible information about arctic ice growth.

      But it doesn't. The webpage is devoted to showing evidence of arctic ice recession and melt. Specifically, the melting of multi-year sea ice. It has a good number of charts and graphs that clearly show a general trend of shrink
      • by phorest ( 877315 )

        I believe that the sea ice is melting, but agree it's probably grown this year from the crazy cold winter (for which I've yet to hear of a cause).

        That's a gutsy statement on this science-laden site. Next thing you know creation science will gain credibility here on good-old /.
        • What? Admitting that I don't have enough evidence to form a rock solid conclusion?

          Ah who am I kidding. You're right. I am a creationist down at heart.

          I beLeave! That the flying spaghetti monster... REACHED out brothers. He reached out his noodly appendage for YOU and for YOU and for YOU.
  • Almost certain? If the scientists can no longer be there to study the phenomena because it is no longer safe, I'd say that's pretty certain.
  • It's now almost certain that the world's ice shelves are melting.
    I'm not trying to troll here, but...really? I see no links to proof of this in the summary. Is this just another "OH NO GLOBAL WARMING" statement?

    I'd be curious to see more information (from both sides of the argument, actually).
  • "Almost certain"??? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Snocone ( 158524 ) on Wednesday May 28, 2008 @02:49PM (#23574303) Homepage
    It's now almost certain that the world's ice shelves are melting

    Funny, that's not what the actual facts show. We're at the highest ever recorded ice cover in the Southern Hemisphere right now:

    http://nsidc.org/data/seaice_index/s_plot.html [nsidc.org]

    which already more than balances out the Northern Hemisphere's recent decline,

    http://nsidc.org/data/seaice_index/n_plot.html [nsidc.org]

    and now that the PDO has entered a cool phase,

    http://jisao.washington.edu/pdo/ [washington.edu]

    it's as certain as anything to do with climate is that you're going to see that trend smartly reverse itself as well.

    Soooooo ... only for some value of "certain" which equates to "certainly not" is that a defensible statement, methinks.

    • Hey cool.
      You're the first person I've known to actually explain the sea ice growth idea.

      Except. Arg... Your third link doesn't have units on it's figures. I'm guessing the colours indicate temperature anomaly from mean conditions.
      Unless red means cold, it looks as if the polar regions would actually be exposed to warmer temperatures resulting in more melt while the equatorial region is a little bit colder than normal.
    • Soooooo ... do I believe you, or do I believe the American Meteorological Society, the American Geophysical Union, and every other scientific association qualified to have an opinion on the matter [wikipedia.org]? I don't have the time or the resources to go measure the ice cap myself, so I have to figure out whether to trust the overwhelming majority of scientists or random people on the internet when it comes to this whole global warming thing.

      While you're at it, maybe you could enlighten me on whether the moon landings
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        Just check who gets more money for churning out doomsday predictions.
      • by Snocone ( 158524 ) on Wednesday May 28, 2008 @08:45PM (#23579517) Homepage
        Well, first off, your choice is not whether to believe me, your choice is whether to believe the actual facts as observed by satellite. I'll leave that up to you.

        And, um, wikipedia may be a even-handed resource for some things, but climate change is not one of them. Indeed, in any academic setting, their conduct would amount to actionable dishonesty. Here, let us relate a first hand account of specifically contrafactual editing on their part: ... I undid Tabletop's undoing of my edits, thinking I had an unassailable response: "Tabletop's changes claim to represent Peiser's views. I have checked with Peiser and he disputes Tabletop's version."

        Tabletop undid my undid, claiming I could not speak for Peiser.

        Why can Tabletop speak for Peiser but not I, who have his permission?, I thought. I redid Tabletop's undid and protested: "Tabletop is distorting Peiser. She does not speak for him. Peiser has approved my description of events concerning him."

        Tabletop parried: "We have a reliable source to this. What Peiser has said to *you* is irrelevant."

        Tabletop, it turns out, has another name: Kim Dabelstein Petersen. She (or he?) is an editor at Wikipedia. What does she edit? Reams and reams of global warming pages. I started checking them. In every instance I checked, she defended those warning of catastrophe and deprecated those who believe the science is not settled. I investigated further. Others had tried to correct her interpretations and had the same experience as I -- no sooner did they make their corrections than she pounced, preventing Wikipedia readers from reading anyone's views but her own. When they protested plaintively, she wore them down and snuffed them out.

        By patrolling Wikipedia pages and ensuring that her spin reigns supreme over all climate change pages, she has made of Wikipedia a propaganda vehicle for global warming alarmists...

        http://www.nationalpost.com/todays_paper/story.html?id=440268&p=1 [nationalpost.com]

        A less reliable source of information would be harder to imagine, friend. Even if you refuse to look at the actual facts as I do and I suggest everyone else does, you really need to find an authority to mindlessly follow -- since that's your thing and all -- that at least makes some pretension to actual scientific process.

        • Wikipedia just provided a handy summary. The sites and publications of all of these organizations--which are hardly Birkenstock wearing communist hippies as you'd know if you'd actually met any of their members--state the same things.

          But hey, you're probably right, I mean I bet all those scientists believe in the moon landings too. Lemmings.
          • by Snocone ( 158524 )
            The sites and publications of all of these organizations .. state the same things.

            Not quite as cut and dried as that, but generally yes. The problem is that only organizations that spout that particular line get funding and recognition, which is provided unconditionally. There is no mainstream funding or recognition available for those with contrarian evidence or alternative theories. A particularly horrifying book to read if you have any respect for the scientific method is "The Chilling Stars" about the t
    • How dare you speak against the will of the Supreme Council of Scientists, comrade Snocone. Obviously, you are a member of the Counterglobalwarming Clique bent on drowning the proletariat in the melting polar caps. However, in the name of the Mother Earth and the Green Revolutionaries, we of the Supreme Council of Scientists take pity upon you and sentence you to 10 years at the Consensus Gulag for re-education.
    • by Yvanhoe ( 564877 )
      It is, as of now, completely certain that the North pole ice shelf is melting. We are in springtime after all...
  • Is it just me, or do those robots look entirely too fragile? Worse yet, the treads appear to be about a hand's width in length. There's no way something like that will be useful out in the wild. It'll come across a 5 inch ridge in the ice and be blocked!
  • by SeekerDarksteel ( 896422 ) on Wednesday May 28, 2008 @02:56PM (#23574431)
    ...Cartesian robots are angry about being passed over for these jobs without even being considered.
  • It's simple, really. Equip them with jump jets! That way they just fire up the engines, point them towards the ice, and...

    ... oh.
  • The poles are not melting, have not been melting. How could they melt at 50 below? That's like saying Greenland is melting, since it's only 30 below zero in the summer. In case you actually want to look, and see for yourself, the latest is at this site ... Arctic http://igloo.atmos.uiuc.edu/cgi-bin/test/print.sh [uiuc.edu] Antarctic ... http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/IMAGES/antarctic.jpg [uiuc.edu] I guess not many actually look, since the sat data has been available since about 1979, the first year we were able to a
  • Maybe I'm missing something, but I think Global Warming is a good thing. Melt all the damn ice shelves for all I care, more fresh water for us all, and better weather to boot. So what if the ocean levels rise a good 5 ft? I think the temperature benefits and the increased fresh water is a small price to pay for that. Plus the land we lose due to islands submerging will be made up in the form of land farther north or south that will now be viable.

    Also, if you look at the history of the Earth over the
    • You are not the only one. I think it is perfectly natural in the scheme of things.

      In fact, *grin*, I heard it stated that the "warmth" is only Mother Nature having "Hot Flashes" since She is getting a bit older and probably getting close to *gasp* menopause!

      *evil grin*

      Sorry.. couldn't resist..
    • Except that in fifty years time the UK will have dried into the likes of an african savannah, and africa itself will be uninhabitable... not to mention the very real possiblity of exponential global heating if the seabed's methane deposits are released.

      Hmm, maybe that's why Venus' atmosphere is so crap these days :)
  • (Obligatory...) Imagine a beowulf of these things... oh wait...

    Seriously though, the additional cost of a mechanism to allow one SnoMote to rescue another damaged SnoMote (and the additional power to carry it long distances) would surely be less expensive than just replacing them any time one falls into a hole. Perhaps such a mechanism is already in place, but I don't see anything like that in the pictures, and there's no mention of such a thing in TFA.
  • So That hows how they are finding the oil in the artic!
  • That the Associate Professor Ayanna Howard is

    1. Quite attractive

    2. Comfortable with a screwdriver

    3. is fixing a robot

    Yet I haven't read a single comment complimenting her obvious geek/nerd eligibility. Fella's OPEN YOUR EYES.

  • autonomously collaborating among themselves
    I love this phrase, since it's both a dichotomy and redundant.
  • we have used RC aircrafts in the Arctic, using an Open Source autopilot

    http://www.flightglobal.com/articles/2008/04/03/222680/cots-uav-makes-arctic-debut.html [flightglobal.com]

Life in the state of nature is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. - Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan