Status Report

Traverse Across Antarctica To The South Pole May Employ Robotic Tractors in the Future

By SpaceRef Editor
August 10, 2009
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Traverse Across Antarctica To The South Pole May Employ Robotic Tractors in the Future

Image: A traverse tractor pulls two buildings on sleds. CRREL engineers are developing a robotic tractor that would allow one autonomous vehicle to follow one driven by a person. Photo Credit: Paul Thur/Antarctic Photo Library

Peter Rejcek, Antarctic Sun Editor: The traverse train is not only the wave of the logistics future in Antarctic, but it may soon use some high-tech gadgetry to complete its mission even faster. Paul Thur said engineers with the U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL) are beginning work on “robotic tractors” — autonomous vehicles that would follow the lead of the one in front of it.

Traverse by the Numbers

1 Pisten Bully with ground-penetrating radar
1 Caterpillar Challenger 95E with a crane
3 Caterpillar MT865Bs (2 with cranes, 1 with winch)
2 CASE STX450 QuadTracs (1 with blade)
2 CASE STX530 QuadTracs (both with blades)

In theory, a 10-member crew could drive nearly 24 hours a day. Five people would drive while five others slept in a living module. “The traverse then would be really short,” said Thur, Traverse Operations manager for Raytheon Polar Services Co. (RPSC) , the prime contractor for the National Science Foundation (NSF) . “It would shorten it where there’s not a time crunch. Right now, it’s so close. … If we could run 24 hours a day, it would take that pressure off.”

That means the traverse could make more trips to South Pole, or support science projects in the field. This season, the crew will carry equipment to build a tall weather tower about 160 kilometers from McMurdo Station for principal investigator Matthew Lazzara at the University of Wisconsin-Madison , who heads various meteorological programs.

“The last two years we’ve supported POLENET directly,” Thur said, referring to a network of GPS and seismic stations going up across West Antarctica. “I’m surprised there aren’t more science projects looking for traverse support.” That could also change in the future. Back to main story: Traverse on track.

SpaceRef staff editor.