‘Yeti’ robot warns of Antarctic crevasses

Jason Bittel / Slate /


Published Mar 9, 2013 at 04:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

You’re traveling more than 1,000 miles across the barren snowscape of Antarctica. Along the way, many crevasses lie hidden between you and your quest to resupply the hungry scientists at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. The good news is you can detect these deathtraps with a radar arm. The bad news is it only gives you approximately four seconds of warning before you and your tracked vehicle, which weighs several tons, plummet to a dark and silent tomb. If only there were a robot that could map crevasses ahead of such expeditions. Preferably one with an adorable yet mildly ferocious name.

Meet the Yeti. This four-wheel-drive rover drags a ground-penetrating radar arm capable of logging information that tells scientists what lies — or more importantly, doesn’t lie — below. It functions at temperatures around minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit. In short, Yeti is an awesome little minion redrawing the boundaries of hazard georeferencing.

The little Yeti — and its predecessor, the solar-powered Cool Robot — have found support from the operations and science arms of the National Science Foundation as well as NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory — after all, rover work on Earth’s poles isn’t so different from rover work on Mars or other celestial bodies. And the lessons we learn from tweaking Yeti may one day help us in space.