Saturday, May 3, 2008

The Icecap

I'll put the pictures up front, if you care about the details of Yeti's performance on the Icecap make sure to read to the end.

After pulling an 18-hour workday on Friday (sorry for not posting), we got Yeti ready for some testing on the ice. We were going to keep working on autonomous control but it became clear that that wasn't an option as everyone we came with really wanted to see it run around on the ice.

We drove off the base for the first time, up the 12 miles towards the ice cap. We passed the Thule Ballistic Missile Early Warning Radar System for which the Thule base exists, that gives us early warning in the event of Russian missile launches. The rest of the team have been setting up for the traverse at the base of the transition onto the icecap. A large section of the transition was groomed to give ample space to tow the fuel sleds, but this gave us a path to get down to the base of the ice sheet.

Me about 200' from the edge of the ice, which isn't visible.

Kevin in front of the Tucker. This beastly machine won't be necessary the next time NSF runs a traverse.

The Tucker with the frame assembly on the front for GPR surveying.

Part of the traverse cargo in front of the transition. This ramp of ice leads up to the icecap, the second-largest body of ice in the world after Antarctica.


Kevin had a hellacious time trying to calculate a bearing from GPS coordinates with the small computer onboard Yeti and we're going to need another day of development before we'll be able to operate fully autonomously. I reworked the driving interface which gives us much better control and makes driving a lot of fun.

Kevin commented that it's probably the nerdiest hick sport imaginable to go out 'robot rock-crawling' but we justified it by calling it testing.

Yeti performs ridiculously well on rough and steep terrain and has exceeded our expectations in its ability to get over obstacles. When we took it out to the ice cap today, we were able to navigate sastrugi that was several feet high, though Yeti high-centered and got stuck on some sculpted blue-ice features that don't occur further up the glacier.

We drove on 2/3rds of our batteries, and this lasted for about 2.5 hours of driving, 1.5 km of which was up a 10-degree slope.

Overall, we're quite happy with how it performs and we'll be doing additional characterization of the power and drive system in the next week.


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