The Antarctic is a difficult place for humans to map: it's freezing, there's fourteen million square kilometers of it, and there's the ever-present risk of running into The Thing. That's why researchers have developed a system to go there for us - Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) which can autonomously survey this incredibly inhospitable region, without any assistance from us freezable fleshbags.
The six-kilo system has a two-meter wingspan and runs on electricity (since any petrol-power would risk contaminating the thermal and atmospheric data the UAVs gather), but running on batteries in Antarctica provides unique challenges - you can't just run to the store to buy a few packs of AAs. Special Lithium-Ion-Polymer battery packs capable of functioning in the extreme cold are used, enabling the roboplanes to cover forty-five kilometers in a forty minute flight. Taking a hundred measurements a second, they are currently studying the exchange of heat between the atmosphere and sea ice. This mechanism is vital for environmental feedback but poorly understood - possibly because it happens in a place that turns people into icicles.
A collaboration between the British Antarctic Survey and the Technical University of Braunshweig, the autonomous aerialbots only need human instructions for landing, when an operator radio controls the plane to land on its special skis. While gathering data the plane operates entirely by computer. One presumes later versions will be able to land on their own, not to mention transform into humanoids and search for Energon. They haven't run into the Antarctic Robot Base we reported on previously - or at least, not as far as we know. Nevertheless we seem to keep filling this vast, pristine land with autonomous robots which he just kinda sorta hope won't find something better to do. Don't be surprised if we have to rename the polar regions "Robot-vania" in a few years. As in the headlines "Robotvania today declared war on wimpy meatsacks. Attempts to counterattack failed because everybody froze to death."
Posted by Luke McKinney.
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