NASA‘s autonomous polar rover, the GROVER, has completed its initial tests in Greenland, coping with some of the harshest environments on the planet. GROVER, which stands for both Greenland Rover and Goddard Remotely Operated Vehicle for Exploration and Research, was able to cope with 30 mph winds and temperatures of below minus 22 F.
The rover was designed by student teams who attended engineering boot camps at Goddard in the summers of 2010 and 2011. GROVER, which is hoped to be used in planetary exploration, was built to carry a ground-penetrating radar which is able to analyze layers of snow and ice.
Over the past month, GROVER has been tested on the ice sheet of Greenland. Previously, it has undergone trials on a beach in Maryland and snow drifts in Idaho. However, this was the rover’s first polar experience. Among its objectives was to prove that it was able to execute commands sent from afar over an Iridium satellite connection. According to the team, it passed with flying colors.
“When we saw it moving and travelling to the locations our professor had keyed in from Boise, we knew all of our hard work had paid off,” said Gabriel Trisca, a graduate student from Boise State University. “GROVER has grown to be a fully-autonomous, GPS-guided and satellite-linked platform for scientific research.”
Over five weeks, GROVER successfully collected and stored radar data over an 18 mile area. It was also able to transmit information in real time on how its systems were performing. GROVER’s solar-powered batteries even allowed it to operate for 12 hours before it needed recharging.
Of course, Greenland’s climate did impact on the 800lb robot’s systems.
“This is very common the first time you take an instrument into an environment like Greenland,” said Hans-Peter Marshall, a geoscientist at Boise State University and science adviser on the project. “It’s always more challenging than you thought it was going to be: Batteries don’t recharge as fast and they don’t last as long, and it takes computers and instrumentation longer to boot.”
Here’s hoping the team perfects the systems ready for later trials and the GROVER’s (hopefully) mission into space.