Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Snow-going robots to assist in climate change research

Gizmag: Scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Pennsylvania State University are developing a hardy breed of autonomous robots designed to collect critical on-site data that will aid in the understanding of how climate change is [affecting] the world's ice sheets and therefore enable the creation of better climate models.

Called SnoMotes, the prototype is a 2-foot-long, 1-foot-wide child's snowmobile (chosen because they are inexpensive, expendable and ready made for abuse) to which a range of data-collection and navigation equipment has been added.

Using cameras and sensors to navigate their environment, the SnoMotes will be able to work as an autonomous team without the use of remote control. Once released from a selected base camp, the robots will collaborate to ensure that the selected research area is well covered and can venture into areas that are unsafe for humans. Two navigation systems are being developed. The first enables the robots “bid” on a desired location based on their proximity to the location and taking into consideration how well their instruments are working. The second involves a the use of a mathematical "net" that can be applied to particular research areas.

Three prototypes have so far been created to prove mobility (which is a big challenge in white-out conditions) and communications capabilities, with a full range of sensors to be added at a later date. There are also plans for larger rovers….

A generic snowmobile, shot by "pierre cb," and generously released into the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. Many thanks, pierre cb...

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