Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Shop Day

This morning we found that our shop space is almost comically un-ideal, as we are situated between a hangar door that frequently opens to allow tracked forklifts to pass (at 1 mph) cooling the room to 10 degrees, and, I kid you not, an indoor simulation firing range in which soldiers fire gas operated M-16's at video terrorists and 90 decibel Turkeys. We don't really mind but though it was a pretty hilariously imperfect place to be situated.

We finished what we hope to be the last of the wiring, mounting, and other physical work on the robot, which is a huge step after almost 8 months of work. We'll be running Yeti tomorrow to test our GPS reception up here and try out or new code. We also built what we termed the 'Toolstation' for obvious reasons. This obnoxious platform allows us to sell peanuts while holding a laptop, batteries, radio, and antenna for fieldwork.

Kevin models:

Here are some pictures from yesterday.

Seeing the quad-track unload is absurd. Once outside of the plane, I would never believe you could get it off the ground.

Jim goes over the planned route and the crevasses marked on geocoded satellite imagery and photos taken from a helicopter.

Kevin plugs in our Truck. It's also 10:00 pm

Yeti in a crate.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

On the ground in Thule

This morning we headed into town for breakfast in the community dining room. The town of Kangerlussuaq consists of a population of about 500 inuit natives and the air force personnel at the base. The two populations are separated by the airstrip through the center of the valley. Apparently Kanger is green in summer, but we're not quite into spring yet so we're surrounded by dead grass and ice.

After breakfast, we suited up with cold weather gear from the NSF Polar Program stockroom packed up our bags, and drove back to the Tarmac to load onto the C5. Heavier by a few passengers and 15,000 lbs of additional cargo, we took off for Thule. The flight lasted only an hour, but the difference in climate in Thule was noticeable the second we stepped out on the strip. Unloading took several hours as we tried to be useful helping the National Guardsmen unload pallets. Watching the Case Snowcat download off the cargo ramp was an impressive sight. We knew this was particularly unusual since the Air Force guys and base personnel were also taking pictures.

Once again, our accommodations here are far nicer than we get back at home, and the Base Exchange is the only place I've seen that sells alcohol cheaper than New Hampshire. Kevin and I are still adjusting to the 5-hour shift in our sleep and work schedules and we won't be making use of that anytime soon.

I'll be posting pictures from today as soon as I can upload them, so check in tomorrow for more pictures. For additional pictures from those in this blog, follow this Link

Our first two days have taken us this far. The last seven months we've worked so that we'll be able to navigate the first several pixels of distance on the blue line towards the summit. Once on the ice cap, there won't be many crevasses but the transition zone can be quite dangerous.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Purpose of the Greenland Traverse

This is the second post for the day so make sure to check out the one below.

Several people have asked us what the purpose of performing a ground arctic traverse is, so I'll devote a short post to addressing the question. Currently the Summit station in Greenland and the South Pole station in Antarctica are supported entirely by C-130 Hercules flights. The carbon footprint of supplying these bases by air is close to 1000 times greater than by towing the supplies overland on sleds behind a snowcat. Besides being inordinately expensive in fuel costs, the flights produce enough emissions that scientists have to work around the flights schedules to collect atmospheric data.

The folks objecting to the Antarctic traverse mission unfortunately missed the point entirely, misinterpreting the traverse as unnecessary expansion. The traverse team follows minimal impact guidelines, packs out 100% of the garbage on route. The traverse is simply establishing a route across the ice that is known to be safe.

Live from Greenland

After one of the most ridiculously difficult roadtrips down to Stewart Air Base, we arrived in Newburgh to collect the full team and spend the night before our 6:00 wakeup. Our hotel was right next to the brand new Orange County Choppers shop. Apparently we missed the Aerosmith concert marking it's grand opening by a day....

Passing base security was a little easier this time, they waved us through after seeing one Army Civilian ID's, in contrast with the 45 minutes of bombsniffing we got last time. Hurry up and wait was the motto of the morning as we spent several hours waiting for the plane to prepare for takeoff.

The C5 was more impressive than we expected up close. We heard that you can spend a career in polar research without getting to fly on one. The passengers fly facing backwards in small and loud cabin at the top of the plane separated from the cockpit. The passenger compartment seems like an afterthought; a tumor on the cargo-hungry body.

The C5 upon landing

Kevin next to a snowcat loaded inside the C5

Loading gear at Kanger

We arrived in Kangerlussuaq after one of the most pleasant flights any of us had experienced. After several hours of loading additional cargo pallets on the plane, we headed to the science support station, located right next to the Kanger jail. The buildings are all brightly-painted prefab concrete boxes that Kevin and I decided are much more comfortable than our accommodations in Hanover.

Jim and Brad outside the KISS

Mark arranged a BBQ for everyone involved with the project, which was a rare opportunity for the NSF folks and the air force guys to interact.

It's 11pm now and feels like dusk. By the end of the project we should be experiencing 24 hours of daylight in Thule.

Tomorrow we wake up at 6:00 again and fly up to Thule where we begin working furiously to bring Yeti online in time for the traverse.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

We're Back

We're back online after an intense period of working on the bot. Over our spring break we heard that NSF accepted our impromptu proposal and decided to stage us in Greenland on a traverse connecting the Thule air force base with the Summit station in Greenland. The purpose of the trip is to resupply the Summit Station, and we'll be testing Yeti's effectiveness at detecting crevasses alongside a Tucker Sno-Cat with radar.

Kevin and I will be heading to Qaanaaq, Greenland (Thule) with Yeti, about as far north as we can possibly go. If you know how to pronounce Qaanaaq, please let me know. At the end of the winter, we had a working robot, but the user interface was rudimentary, the GPS functionality nonexistant, and the robot was not prepared to drive outside. With only two team members left working on the project, we've been working around the clock to get ready in time.

Our Carlon supplier informed us this week that the enclosures we ordered 7 weeks before would not be available until June. We pulled the order, spent a day in the CAD lab, and overnighted some stock material and after several days of breathing fiberglass dust, we ended up with a couple of sweet bulletproof fish tanks to protect Yeti's electronics in snow and -40 degree temperatures.

Ken Corcoran from GSSI came up to Dartmouth on Tuesday to deliver our SIR-3000 GPR unit and work with us to integrate the radar with the GPS and the wheel encoders. This took a monumental effort to get Yeti ready in time, and Kevin and I put in 30 hours in two days to get Yeti buttoned up and ready to go. We finished at 5:00 on Tuesday morning, took a quick nap, and met Ken at Thayer.

We ran into surprisingly few problems integrating the GPR unit with Yeti's electronics. Yeti's power board was able to supply the GPR with enough power and we were able to synch the GPR with Yeti's wheel encoders without issue. The one problem we faced was that the Garmin GPS we were using was never able to see more than three satellites, and the GPR requires at least 4. We're crossing our fingers that we'll have better luck in Greenland, since we've heard that satellite visibility is excellent where we'll be testing.

Kevin and Ken testing the GPR

Ken also helped us out by building a plate to hold the GPR antenna inside the tow sled which will help us out quite a bit.

Yeti is shipping out to get crated on a C5 transport plane on Monday, so we'll be racing in the machine shop the next two days to get everything entirely finished. Ken was justifiably not impressed with our 10-minute job on the towing mechanism, which was our lowest priority up to this point, so we'll be building a better rig to tow the radar

In our spare time, we've been updating the Yeti software to make the manual driving more intuitive and add the GPS functionality. We've been remarkably successful in getting this software to work so we're hoping that everything we develop in the week after we ship Yeti will work when we get to Greenland.

We'll be posting pictures and video from Thule so check back frequently.