NASA GROVER solar-powered robot covers harsh Greenland terrain

NASA grover
© NASA Goddard/Matt Radcliff

A new NASA robot called GROVER that carries ground-penetrating radar for measuring and analyzing layers of snow and ice has survived its first test in the Arctic, proving that it can operate autonomously as a rolling scientific discovery bot in the harsh polar environment.

GROVER, which stands for both Greenland Rover and Goddard Remotely Operated Vehicle for Exploration and Research, was designed by teams of engineering students attending camps at Goddard Space Flight Center in the summers of 2010 and 2011. After that, the rover was later transferred to Boise State University for further development.

"When we saw it moving and traveling 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 who has been involved in the GROVER project from its start. “GROVER has grown to be a fully-autonomous, GPS-guided and satellite-linked platform for scientific research.”

GROVER weighs 8000 pounds and consists of two solar panels that power a suite of equipment, including the radar, that sit atop two large snow mobile tracks. In the Greenland tests, the robot collected data over 18 miles of snow and ice and transmitted data in real time on how its equipment was performing. The researchers initially expected GROVER to go around the clock and cover more ground, but the extreme conditions were hard on the electronics and solar-powered batteries were only able to go for 12 hours before needing to recharge.

Despite the challenges, GROVER was able to detect and analyze a layer of ice sheet that formed after a major melt event in the summer of 2012, which was one of the major goals of the test.

The researchers now have a lot of plans to improve the robot.

NASA says, "Though currently the radar information is stored onboard and retrieved afterward, the GROVER team wants to switch to 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."

Other ideas include having several smaller rovers that move radially outwards from where GROVER goes, increasing the amount of ground covered. The smaller robots could then come back to the larger one to recharge and transmit data.

You can watch a video about GROVER below.

NASA GROVER solar-powered robot covers harsh Greenland terrain
The autonomous robot has passed its first test in collecting and analyzing ice sheet data.

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