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Robotic Scout To Survey Arctic Ice

Zonk posted more than 6 years ago | from the here-robot-birdie dept.

Robotics 58

Roland Piquepaille writes "The Meridian unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is a single-engine research aircraft with fixed landing gear designed by engineers at the University of Kansas. According to Technology Review, it will be used to see what happens beneath the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets. Two units are currently being built for a cost of about 3 million US dollars. The Meridian will fly for up to 13 hours over a distance of 1,750 kilometers. The first flight over Greenland is forecast for next summer, and a second flight will take place over the Antarctic later in 2008."

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58 comments

At the mountains of madness... (1, Redundant)

Keichann (888574) | more than 6 years ago | (#20628955)

I for one welcome our new, star-headed overlords.

Seriously, watch out for the Plateau of Leng guys.

Melt the ice? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20628957)

Isn't all that fuel burning in the aircraft going to heat up the arctic, and exacerbate precisely the problem it's trying to survey???

Re:Melt the ice? (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 6 years ago | (#20628967)

Yes indeed, but not by a measurable amount.

Re:Melt the ice? (2, Insightful)

matelmaster (1040950) | more than 6 years ago | (#20629051)

That may be true, but maybe it is this kind of thinking that lies at the root of the problem. A single car trip (drone flight) doesn't make a difference. If enough people think like this (it seems that currently a lot of people still do) and you've got a pretty big problem at your hands. In this special case however there may be a point to be made of the reward in understanding justifying the cost in environmental impact.

Re:Melt the ice? (0, Flamebait)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 6 years ago | (#20629089)

True enough, however there will never be more than a few robotic planes traveling over the ice fields, and the scientific data they return will, I'm sure, be worth any minor environmental damage. Millions upon millions of automobiles now ... that's a different story.

Re:Melt the ice? (2, Insightful)

calebt3 (1098475) | more than 6 years ago | (#20629193)

Seeing as the planes will be launched in the summer, when daylight hours are the longest, why not refit that solar-powered plane that flew 52 hours straight (http://hardware.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=07/09/10/1917254) for cold-weather flight and mount the survey equipment on it as well? I assume that the researchers don't need the plane to fly for more than a full day at a time. Unless maybe the sun is too low in the sky for solar panels to get enough power?

Re:Melt the ice? (3, Insightful)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 6 years ago | (#20629255)

Unless maybe the sun is too low in the sky for solar panels to get enough power?

No idea, a lot would depend upon the time of year, of course. But when you're sending a multi-million-dollar aircraft over a few thousand square miles of ice, you would probably want a more reliable power system. I don't know how much power the radar equipment on the thing needs, but that alone would probably eliminate a solar-powered craft.

Re:Melt the ice? (1)

CompMD (522020) | more than 6 years ago | (#20632385)

You would need an electric motor producing 135hp at the same rpm as the Thielert Centurion. You would also need solar panels capable of delivering sufficient power to run that motor, which would be HUGE.

Re:Melt the ice? (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | more than 6 years ago | (#20633269)

Unless maybe the sun is too low in the sky for solar panels to get enough power?


No idea, a lot would depend upon the time of year, of course. But when you're sending a multi-million-dollar aircraft over a few thousand square miles of ice, you would probably want a more reliable power system. I don't know how much power the radar equipment on the thing needs, but that alone would probably eliminate a solar-powered craft.

More importantly (for climate research) is that to get a full understanding of the behaviour of any areas local climate you need to take measurements at intervals all through the annual variation. (Probably you really need measurements through at least half of the longest cycle you think is going to affect your system - see Nyquist theorem [wikipedia.org] - but since that's either 10,000 years or 60,000 years depending on which Milankovitch cycles [wikipedia.org] you think are relevant to the climate changes you're studying ...)
So, even if your UAV is capable of taking the measurements under solar power in high summer, you still need to make comparable measurements in deep winter. And in research, you reduce the systematic changes between measurements as much as possible, which in this case would mean using the same transport platform in summer and winter.

Re:Melt the ice? (1)

arivanov (12034) | more than 6 years ago | (#20632773)

1. The performance of Li-X batteries in cold weather is abissmal. Just a refit will not do, you need different battery tech which we simply do not have today.
2. That plane was military tech. It is marketed by Quinetic which means that most likely someone else has designed it an built it on their behalf. All Quinetic realistically does nowdays is put 400-800% markup (seen that actually) and write a tender spec in a military friendly format. You have to find who designed the plane and hope that it was not a one-off exclusive.
3. Considering how long it takes to make something Quinetic sells into a working system I would suggest you look elsewhere. By the time this plane is useable it will be obsolete compared to competing tech.

Re:Melt the ice? (1)

CompMD (522020) | more than 6 years ago | (#20634439)

You are absolutely correct about point 1.

About points 2 and 3, you are quite mistaken sir. Qinetiq has nothing to do with this aircraft. The Meridian was designed, developed, and will be manufactured completely by the University of Kansas in conjunction with the NSF. It is not milspec design either. It was designed by students.

Re:Melt the ice? (1)

arivanov (12034) | more than 6 years ago | (#20635189)

Read the thread further up. There was a suggestion there to use that aircraft that stayed for 56h in the air on solar. My post refers to it http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/09/10/qinetiq_zephyr_solar_power_plane_record_endurance/ [theregister.co.uk] , and not the KU aircraft. It was definitely built by Quinetiq.

Re:Melt the ice? (1)

CompMD (522020) | more than 6 years ago | (#20643615)

My bad, sorry, wasn't paying attention...not enough coffee. :)

Still, you have the problem of weight. The payload isn't light, and the aircraft requires a 135hp powerplant to push it along with the payload for the desired flight time. The Qinetiq airplane you refer to is only 30kg, the engine alone for the Meridian is an order of magnitude heavier than that. It is a much larger airplane. Just like you can't use a Yugo to tow a 28 ft motorboat, you can't use a small solar powered airplane to carry the sensor payload for CReSIS.

Re:Melt the ice? (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 6 years ago | (#20645483)

Flamebait? WTF?

ohnoitsroland (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20628999)

get tagging, this is your daily dose of roland. if you are unlucky, there might be another roland story in a couple hours.

Re:ohnoitsroland (5, Insightful)

UbelievablyLame (962303) | more than 6 years ago | (#20631483)

I thought the beef we had with Roland was that all of his posted links went to his blog and not to the real source. It doesn't appear that he does anymore. Why still with the hate?

Re:ohnoitsroland (2, Insightful)

heinousjay (683506) | more than 6 years ago | (#20632279)

Because there wasn't really a legitimate beef in the first place. This is just a group of nerds playing at "fight the power."

Re:ohnoitsroland (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20632729)

It's because we are Anonymous, Internet Hate Machine.

Deception point anyone? (1)

Pugzly (441999) | more than 6 years ago | (#20629031)

Sounds like the start of a Dan Brown novel - 'cept this isn't a satellite. :)

Full text without click-throughs (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20629111)

Close Window
Technology Review - Published by MIT
Thursday, September 13, 2007

A Robotic Polar Aircraft

To gain a better understanding of ice-sheet disintegration, Kansas researchers are building an unmanned plane with cutting-edge radar for better mapping.
By David Talbot

Seeing beneath the vast Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets--and, in particular, seeing whether any water sits between ice and ground--is critical to understanding how fast ice might slide into the sea in the future. But many areas are still uncharted territory. Now, engineers at the University of Kansas, in Lawrence, are in the final stages of constructing, from scratch, an unmanned aircraft that will carry ground-penetrating radar and other sensors.

The project should greatly accelerate the pace of mapping without risking the lives of human pilots who now fly limited missions across parts of the ice sheets. "We can cut costs for large-scale mapping projects, increase the range, and reduce dangers," says Rick Hale, an associate professor of aerospace engineering and leader of the effort.

The plane will fly in conditions that would be too risky for humans, and it will fly lower than would be safe for human pilots, enabling sensors to bring back sharper pictures. The aircraft's key instrument, a 125-pound radar unit, will fire signals through kilometers of ice at several frequencies. Software will then analyze the timing of returning signals to create a clear picture of subsurface ice layers, water pockets, and the contours of the underlying bedrock or soil.

To be sure, there's plenty of unmanned aircraft already out there, such as the Predator, made by General Atomics. But while a Predator might cost around $30 million, Hale's team is working with a National Science Foundation budget of around $2 million. And not just any old plane will do: this aircraft needs to work in bitterly cold and extremely remote polar locations, function far from communications centers, and carry specific kinds of gear.

Hale's team is giving the aircraft three means of communication. The first will allow humans to remotely control takeoff and landing. The second will allow radio-frequency communications when the aircraft is near a base camp. The third means enables satellite communications when the aircraft might be as far as 600 kilometers away from the nearest camp. The plane's wings--which have a span of about 26 feet--are being designed to have de-icing capability, and heaters will prevent the electronics from failing in the extreme cold.

The aircraft, called Meridian, is part of a larger effort at the University of Kansas's Center for the Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets. Together with groups at other institutions, the Kansas team is pushing technology advancements to get a better fix on ice melt rates, ice thicknesses, and the accelerating rate at which glaciers are moving toward the ocean, which could accelerate the rate of sea-level rise.

The aircraft will leverage a powerful radar technology honed at the university. The radar, developed jointly with other institutions, is unique in its ability to provide a detailed picture of ice layers and, in particular, the boundary between ice and ground, which is helpful in efforts to understand how fast ice sheets might slide into the ocean. "Basically, our radar can see deeper, and with better resolution, than any of the other competitors out there at the moment," says Claude Laird, a research scientist at the University of Kansas who used the system on an expedition in Greenland this summer. The radar was used on an overland expedition and to help choose the site for an ice-core drilling expedition next year.

If all goes well, Meridian will make its maiden flight on Greenland next summer, followed by a tour of duty later in the year, during the Antarctic summer, says Hale.
Copyright Technology Review 2007.

I'm no expert, but... (3, Insightful)

Scrameustache (459504) | more than 6 years ago | (#20629125)

a single-engine research aircraft with fixed landing gear designed by engineers at the University of Kansas. According to Technology Review, it will be used to see what happens beneath the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets.
Wouldn't that work better with a research submarine?

Re:I'm no expert, but... (2, Insightful)

thatskinnyguy (1129515) | more than 6 years ago | (#20629175)

Submarine would work below water. But since Greenland and Antarctica are land masses... no.

Re:I'm no expert, but... (2, Informative)

Scrameustache (459504) | more than 6 years ago | (#20629717)

Submarine would work below water. But since Greenland and Antarctica are land masses... no.
Hmmm, I guess I shouldn't have trusted the subject line: "Robotic Scout To Survey Arctic Ice"

Re:I'm no expert, but... (1)

thatskinnyguy (1129515) | more than 6 years ago | (#20630077)

The write-up clearly stated Greenland as the testbed.

Come on, this is /. - (1)

LynnwoodRooster (966895) | more than 6 years ago | (#20630289)

You don't RTFA! Don't even RTF summary - only newbies do that...

Re:Come on, this is /. - (0, Flamebait)

thatskinnyguy (1129515) | more than 6 years ago | (#20630419)

Them's fightin' words. You don't want to say something that could be misconstrued as flaimbait would you?

Re:I'm no expert, but... (2, Funny)

MillionthMonkey (240664) | more than 6 years ago | (#20631587)

Submarine would work below water. But since Greenland and Antarctica are land masses... no.

Well, one of the things they want to find out is whether there is a layer of liquid water between the rock and the ice on top. If we can send a sub under the glacier and it comes out on the other side of Greenland, that discovery would open up valuable new submarine trade routes to compete with this new Northwest Passage we've got opening up. Maybe we can even snake pneumatic tubes underneath the glacier (like the ones the old bank drive-thrus used) so we can suck inexpensive Chinese goods right out from under the ice. Of course that wouldn't be the only consequence of such a discovery. For example we could put all our stuff on top of the ice, slide it off the land into the water, and carry our things around the world on giant cheap ice rafts.

Re:I'm no expert, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20629299)

Wouldn't that work better with a research submarine?

It would work better for an ice shelf.

Re:I'm no expert, but... (1)

rts008 (812749) | more than 6 years ago | (#20633623)

Probably so, but what would the University of Kansas know about submarines?

I guess that's why they went with landing gear, and will probably home in on miles-flat wheatfields to land in...or maybe not.

But using an UAV to explore beneath the ice sheets? Maybe watched too much Wizard of OZ..."I don't think we're in Kansas anymore, Toto!" (or something like that)

But what do I know about Kansas landing gear and exploring under Arctic ice sheets? Nothing, really.
I've maybe seen Kansas landing gear on some crop dusters, but here in Oklahoma there are no Arctic ice sheets that I know of in spite of the ice storms we seem to get instead of snow.

Hey, at least we could give them credit for their ability to con a budget from someone to play with this.

What's going on down there? (1)

thatskinnyguy (1129515) | more than 6 years ago | (#20629155)

Look no further than Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] for that answer. But who am I kidding? This is a Roland post.

CReSIS (5, Informative)

CompMD (522020) | more than 6 years ago | (#20629165)

I've actually done some work (unofficially) with CReSIS on their UAV, before the Meridian design. I pushed for a diesel piston engine for the powerplant back in the day, and now the first Thielert engine is sitting in KU's engine test facility today.

The fuselage plugs arrived here a few weeks ago, and they look great. I believe they were made by Scaled Composites. Dr. Hale has done a fantastic job leading the aerospace side of this project. This aircraft design and development is being done by KU. Design verification is even done with software from Lawrence based DARcorporation, a spinoff of the University of Kansas with strong ties to their Aerospace Engineering department. And the first two aircraft will be manufactured at KU. Not to neglect anyone, the EECS department's team has spent many years working on the radar (I knew guys six years ago working on ground penetrating radar here) and its prospects are looking good. This is definitely a project that KU and Lawrence should be proud of.

A lot of time and effort from bright students and researchers has gone into the CReSIS project, its good to see that it has been noticed.

Re:CReSIS (2, Informative)

FieroEtnl (773481) | more than 6 years ago | (#20629595)

Like the parent said, the EECS department, especially the radar and robotics sections, have definitely put a lot of research and work into CReSIS. My robotics professor this semester, Dr. Agah, has helped put together a lot of autonomous rovers that crawled across Greenland and scanned the ice sheets. One of the biggest successes they had was a robot called MARVIN. The UAV approach is definitely one that should help the field dramatically since even tread-mounted robots cannot go everywhere on the ice. I'm especially glad that the research my institution is doing is finally getting some recognition.

If you want to know more about the work of CReSIS, an extensive list of presentations on their research [ku.edu] is available. I think there are some software limitations in terms of browsers you can use to look at them, but the website has a lot of information if you don't want to just look at the presentations.

Re:CReSIS (2, Interesting)

fuego451 (958976) | more than 6 years ago | (#20632217)

Perhaps you can answer this question. Did they consider using a NOAA aircraft for this project? If so, why did they reject the idea? I would think NOAA's P3-Orion would be well suited for this job (they hunted Russian submarines over hundreds of miles of open ocean in the Bering Straits at low level in all kinds of weather) and, the information being gathered very useful to N0AA, the government might offer free or reasonable use of the aircraft.

Re:CReSIS (3, Informative)

CompMD (522020) | more than 6 years ago | (#20632347)

Given the required airspeed, altitude, and payload, it is impossible to use a current aircraft for this mission. The biggest reason is the radar (payload). Due to its sensitivity, you can't use an aluminum airplane, which is what the P3 is. Meridian has carbon fiber composite structure and skin. Also, the cruise airspeed for taking data is significantly lower than the cruise speed of a P3. The P3 has four big turboprop engines whereas the Meridian is a piston single with a Diesel cycle engine. The specific fuel consumption of the engine is dramatically less than a P3's engine at the same altitude. Most importantly however, is crew. If you're flying a P3 over Antarctica, you need a crew for that airplane. If there is an emergency and the aircraft crashes or lands in a remote area, the lives of the crew are in great jeopardy. The Meridian is unmanned, so if you lose an aircraft, you don't lose a crew.

Right now Meridian's mission is clear, and it has been developed to successfully accomplish the goals set in the mission.

"is forecasted" (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20629209)

Wowf. Even the spell checker in Firefox complained about that.

Shouldn't that be "is forecast" or "has been forecast for" or (at worse) "has been forecasted"?

Re:"is forecasted" (1)

geobeck (924637) | more than 6 years ago | (#20631791)

...or (at worse) "has been forecasted"?

"has been forecast." There is no such word as "forecasted". I'm not terribly surprised at Troland's spelling ability, though.

Re:"is forecasted" (1)

Whiney Mac Fanboy (963289) | more than 6 years ago | (#20632337)

There is no such word as "forecasted".

Many dictionaries list it as an alternative past tense. The english language is much more flexible than you seem to think.

Re:"is forecasted" (1)

MollyB (162595) | more than 6 years ago | (#20634543)

Many dictionaries list it as an alternative past tense.
Can't argue with that, but there's more to the story. Dictionaries can be prescriptive or descriptive. From Wiki, a paragraph on the matter [wikipedia.org] :
"Prescription and description are often seen as opposites, in the sense that one declares how language should be while the other declares how language is. But they can also be complementary, and usually exist in dynamic tension. Most commentators on language show elements of both prescription and description in their thinking, and popular debate on language issues frequently revolves around the question of how to balance these." (Italics mine)
So, which type of dictionary one employs puts such arguments in the let's-agree-to-disagree category, imho.

13 hour flight? (1)

Cedric Tsui (890887) | more than 6 years ago | (#20629287)

If the meridian can only fly for 13 hours at a time, what is the point of using it rather than a manned aircraft? Especially at such a pricetag.

Re:13 hour flight? (1)

Cedric Tsui (890887) | more than 6 years ago | (#20629313)

Nevermind.
Reading is fun...

Pretty much the whole article discusses how flying in arctic conditions at low enough speeds to make use of the ground penetrating radar isn't safe for humans.

Re:13 hour flight? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20630971)

If the meridian can only fly for 13 hours at a time, what is the point of using it rather than a manned aircraft? Especially at such a pricetag.


- Multiple shifts of operators can manage the survey
- The operators get to sit somewhere warm
- The difference in weight between the robotics and the operator+13 hours of caffeine can be allocated to additional gear.
- As a line item, it was so far down that Bush didn't notice and redirect the funding to his offshore accounts.

Exploration Elegy (0)

Dragonflite (1155813) | more than 6 years ago | (#20629593)

The progress of science
Now demands
We go up to
The Northern Lands,

To see if we
Are really at fault
For the global
Warming assault.

Or maybe it is
To determine
Who owns that place,
Us or the Germen?

Mayhap it is
To date our Earth.
They say it's old,
That gives me mirth!

I do not know
Why we survey.
Is it really worth,
The price we pay?

Re:Exploration Elegy (1)

foobsr (693224) | more than 6 years ago | (#20634915)

To see if we
Are really at fault
For the global
Warming assault.


That is just the cover-up story. TFA itself says, quote: "The project should greatly accelerate the pace of mapping without risking the lives of human pilots who now fly limited missions across parts of the ice sheets. "We can cut costs for large-scale mapping projects, increase the range, and reduce dangers," says Rick Hale, an associate professor of aerospace engineering and leader of the effort.".

Thus they ensure that maps are in place for drilling and deployment of 'protection' once the ice is gone — and be sure that there is also interest in collecting intelligence on how to speed up the melting process.

CC.

Remember ICESAT? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20629821)

http://icesat.gsfc.nasa.gov/ [nasa.gov]

http://science.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=07/02/19/1319228 [slashdot.org]

observing:

http://www.satobs.org/seesat/Oct-2003/0064.html [satobs.org]

Icesat is looking at this ice. This UAV is looking under the ice. I wonder if these folks should be working together?

You Fai7 It (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20629971)

the Nchannel to sign moans and groalns

Probe Droid (2, Funny)

opec (755488) | more than 6 years ago | (#20630239)

Scientist: You found something? Engineer: Yes, my lord. Scientist: (studying the image on the console screen) That's it. The Rebels are there. Engineer: My lord, there are so many uncharted settlements. It could be smugglers, it could be... Scientist: That is the system. And I'm sure Skywalker is with them. Set your course for the Hoth system. General Veers, prepare your men.

Just radar? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20630655)

So when do they arm this thing with Hellfire missiles?

Soon you're talking about real money (1)

MillionthMonkey (240664) | more than 6 years ago | (#20630957)

Two units are currently being built for a cost of about 3 U.S. million dollars.

Sergey needs to offer more than $20 million for the moon-based Roomba he wants if it costs 1.5 million to get one that dusts the Arctic ice cap.

Why the hatred of Roland? (1)

The Ligand (687279) | more than 6 years ago | (#20631259)

Please forgive my ignorance (and the somewhat off-topic nature of this post), but why is it that everyone hates Roland so much? It may be totally legitimate, but I guess I haven't read enough of his posts to see why he is so odious. Does he only post to get traffic for his site? Is he an arrogant asshat? Why the "rolandsucks" and "boycottroland" tags? I just remember that last time I was a Roland post, the tagging also had the anti-roland phrases. Anyone care to enlighten me (in a somewhat objective manner?) Thank you.

Re:Why the hatred of Roland? (1)

geobeck (924637) | more than 6 years ago | (#20631807)

Does he only post to get traffic for his site?

Bingo.

He may find a story on a legitimate news page, but he writes up a summary in his blog, then submits it. I don't know what he's got going on with the /. editors, but they keep posting his stuff.

Re:Why the hatred of Roland? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20631819)

"Does he only post to get traffic for his site?"

Yes. His "articles" are simple summaries of the original articles. There was a very informative and lengthly post about his ad revenue among other things. There is also speculation that he might be giving kickbacks to Zonk as most every Roland article is posted by Zonk.

Better not fly over Canada! (1)

X'16435934 (988304) | more than 6 years ago | (#20631901)

Canadian troops in Afghanistan just purchased several Stinger missiles from the Taliban.
(Hey, it was either that or have their heads chopped off, like those Koreans)

These missiles are now back in Canada's North, and ready to shoot down any US robotic intruder.
And this goes for you pesky Danes too!!

DO YOU GOVERN YOURSELVES ACCORDINGLY.


I remain, your most obedient servant,
X'16435934

What happend to Phase 1? (1)

snickkers (1023847) | more than 6 years ago | (#20632061)

So they're going to skip the first step? The way I understand it is, first you send in the MALP, then if the terrain is too difficult to traverse, or if you want to do further reconnnaisance, you send in the UAV. Then, finally, you can send in SG-1 when it's confirmed that the coast is clear.

3 U.S. million dollars? (1)

dwater (72834) | more than 6 years ago | (#20632321)

What's a "U.S. million"?

Has the U.S. done it's usual thing of copying everyone else and then changing it slightly? ...like Microsoft tends to?

3 U.S. million dollars (1)

BarnabyWilde (948425) | more than 6 years ago | (#20632445)

Is that more or less than a metric million?

Re:3 U.S. million dollars (1)

fractoid (1076465) | more than 6 years ago | (#20632731)

Obviously it's between an African and a European million. And FTFA, it's laden.

Re:3 U.S. million dollars (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20634015)

not any more, it's only bin laden.

(sorry)

RCVs aren't robots! (1)

Iowan41 (1139959) | more than 6 years ago | (#20639851)

Remote-controlled vehicles or telops are not robots. Robots are completely autonomous.
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