NASA’s new robotic polar rover — GROVER — recently passed its first field test in a polar environment. The rover — commanded solely via satellite communications — successfully navigated the highest, most-extreme point in Greenland, dealing with wind gusts of over 30 mph and temperatures as low as -22 Fahrenheit.
GROVER — an acronym for both Greenland Rover and Goddard Remotely Operated Vehicle for Exploration and Research — is the product of a collaboration between teams of students who attended engineering boot camps at the Goddard Space Flight Center during the summers of 2010 and 2011, and researchers at NASA. The rover was designed to house a ground-penetrating radar which would be able to analyze the of layers of snow and ice beneath it.
GROVER had previously been tested by researchers both at a beach in Maryland and in the snow in Idaho, but the recent testing — from May 6 to June 8 at Summit Camp in Greenland — was the first polar testing. “One of the main goals was proving that the robot could execute commands sent from afar over an Iridium satellite connection — an objective GROVER accomplished.”
“When we saw it moving and travelling to the locations our professor had keyed in from Boise, we knew all of our hard work had paid off,” stated Gabriel Trisca, a graduate student from Boise State University. “GROVER has grown to be a fully-autonomous, GPS-guided and satellite-linked platform for scientific research.” GROVER also collected and stored radar data over 18 miles during the five weeks it spent on the Greenland ice.
"When you work at the poles, on the ice, it's cold, it's tiring, it's expensive and there's a limit to how much ground you can cover on snowmobiles," Lora Koenig, a NASA glaciologist at Goddard, said. "It would be great if autonomous robotic platforms could do part of this work -- especially the part where high winds and blowing snow try to freeze your skin."