Robots tread on thin ice when scientists fear
Wednesday, 28 May 2008, 07:00 Hrs
Washington: This is one machine that goes where humans fear to tread - on thin ice. SnoMote - designed at Georgia Institute of Technology (GIT) and Pennsylvania State University - is a robot capable of negotiating volatile ice sheets as they crack, shift and fill with water. The robot goes where it is impossible for scientists to walk and gets accurate measurement and inputs of ice sheets, something that lies beyond the ken of satellites. The measurements taken by SnoMotes and the data generated provide scientists a better understanding of the hidden dynamics that influence the stability of ice sheets. "In order to say with certainty how climate change affects the world's ice, scientists need accurate data points to validate their climate models," said Ayanna Howard, who led the project. "Our goal was to create rovers that could gather more accurate data to help scientists create better climate models. It's definitely science-driven robotics." Howard unveiled the SnoMotes at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) in Pasadena. They will be part of an exhibit at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry in June. Here's how the SnoMotes will work when they're ready for their glacial missions: The scientist will select a location for investigation and decide on a safe "base camp" from which to release the SnoMotes. SnoMotes will then be programmed with their assigned coverage area and requested measurements. The researcher will monitor the SnoMotes' progress and even reassign locations and data collection remotely from the camp as necessary. Instead of building an expensive prototype, Howard opted to start with a sturdy kit snowmobile, already primed for snow conditions and designed for heavy use by a child. Howard's group then installed a camera and all necessary computing and sensor equipment inside the two-foot-long, one-foot-wide snowmobile. The result was a sturdy but inexpensive rover.