Six-Foot Robot Invades Greenland, For Science

There is nothing better in life than a good robot story, and what’s even better is when that robot is named GROVER.

GROVER stands for both Greenland Rover and Goddard Remotely Operated Vehicle for Exploration and Research — which must have just really made the NASA scientists day, when they realised — and is set to test itself on the highest part of Greenland’s massive ice sheet between May 3 and June 8.

The autonomous, solar-powered, 6 foot-tall robot carries a ground-penetrating radar which will allow it to study how snow accumulates on an ice sheet over time. GROVER will attempt to provide scientists with a better understanding of the changes that take place in a massive ice sheet.

Students from a NASA Goddard summer engineering boot camp test two prototypes of GROVER at a beach in Asseteague Island, Md., in 2011. The prototype in front is similar to the one NASA will test in Greenland in May 2013.
Image Credit: NASA/Michael Comberiate

“Robots like GROVER will give us a new tool for glaciology studies,” said Lora Koenig, a glaciologist at Goddard and science advisor on the project.

GROVER was developed by teams of students in 2010 and 2011 who were participating in summer engineering boot camps at Goddard Space Flight Center. They were interested in building a rover, and the students approached Koenig to ask whether a rover would help in her studies.

Standing six feet tall — including the massive solar panels that power it — GROVER weights in at approximately 800 pounds and gets around on two repurposed snowmobile tracks. Powered solely by the solar panels atop its bulking structure, GROVER can work in the pristine cold of high Greenland without impacting the environment.

“We think it’s really powerful,” said Gabriel Trisca, a Boise State master’s degree student who developed GROVER’s software. “The fact is the robot could be anywhere in the world and we’ll be able to control it from anywhere.”

Michael Comberiate, a retired NASA engineer and manager of Goddard’s Engineering Boot Camp said the Earth-bound Greenland Rover is similar to NASA missions off the planet.

“GROVER is just like a spacecraft but it has to operate on the ground,” Comberiate said. “It has to survive unattended for months in a hostile environment, with just a few commands to interrogate it and find out its status and give it some directions for how to accommodate situations it finds itself in.”

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