Researchers from China’s Kunlun Polar Research Team in Antarctica have come up with an interesting robot to help them explore the frozen reaches of the continent. Using Urban Green Energy's “HoYi!” mini wind turbine, they've added wind-power to their robot, the Polar Rover.
Polar Rover is equipped with a myriad of sensors, including atmospheric sensors, snow samplers, geography and geology analyzers, and yes, it also makes a claim for the title of the world's first wind-powered, satellite-controlled autonomous robot.
The autonomous robot was put through its paces during a 58-day expedition during which it covered 2,500 kilometers during extreme conditions. Considering how windy Antarctica is known to be, it's amazing that a wind-turbine-topped robot doesn't get toppled over. But the Polar Rover has proven itself sturdy even in hurricane-force winds.
EarthTechling reports that the HoYi! is rated at 200 watts, and that "UGE CEO Nick Blitterswyk's said the VAWT ended up atop the little four-wheeled vehicle after the Beijing Aeronautics and Astronautics University came calling. Apparently, robotics engineers there saw a wind turbine as a good way to keep the rover moving through not only sub-zero temperatures, but also what was described as “polar winds, geomagnetic interference, cosmic rays and other extreme environmental conditions.”
TMCNet notes, "After 58 days in these extreme environmental conditions, including polar winds and cosmic rays, Polar Rover is nearly outshining Curiosity [Mars Rover], and will likely push a move toward more environmental robotic practices when it comes to terrain exploration and rovers."
While it's hard to compare rovers in Antarctica and on Mars, we have to admit both are quite extreme locations. To function properly in either is a feat. And to use renewable energy in the process earns two thumbs up.