Antarctica looks all nice and smooth, but lurking beneath the snow are the gaping maws of crevasses of doom. Doom, I say! And it's not just me saying it: the threat of crevasses means that moving anything from one place to another on the ground is a slow, potentially deadly process. That's why some researchers from Dartmouth came up with Yeti, a GPS-guided robot that can drag a ground-penetrating radar around to detect impending doom. This robot has been around for several years now, but its masters have just published a paper in the current issue of the Journal of Field Robotics, showing that Yeti can make a huge difference in polar logistics.
Here's Yeti doing its thing:
The driver in the snowcat follows behind Yeti, and if Yeti detects a crevasse, or if it suddenly disappears, then it's time to find an alternate route. And it's not just about safety: flying supplies all over the place (the safest way to move stuff around the Antarctic) is very expensive, and letting Yeti lead supply convoys instead saves about $2 million in logistical costs per year, says the NSF. Not bad for a robot that costs just $25,000.
In addition to keeping humans safe, Yeti can also encourage humans to be lazy by taking over time-consuming radar terrain surveys, searching for everything from underground rivers to buried buildings. And for the super lazy, Yeti is powerful enough to tow a sled with three sunbathing researchers on it. Clearly, this little robot is all kinds of awesome, and the only thing wrong with it is that there's only one of 'em, which is not nearly enough to go around.