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Robotic Mini-Snowmobiles set for Icefield Test

Juneau, AK

A prototype robot that can help monitor climate change will be tested on the Juneau Icefield the week of June 7-13. The “snowmote” is a small two-foot long robot like a snowmobile. It is autonomous (not remote-controlled) and outfitted with sensors, gauges and cameras.

Georgia Tech associate professor Ayanna Howard, who developed the prototype, is scheduled to arrive in Juneau on June 7.  “In order to say with certainty how climate change affects the world’s ice, scientists need accurate data points to validate their climate models,” said Howard.  “Our goal was to create rovers that could gather more accurate data to help scientists create better climate models. It’s definitely science-driven robotics.”

The Juneau visit marks the first time the robot will be put to the test in Alaska.  Howard envisions SnoMotes roving Antarctica collecting important data. Simulations so far have proved effective.

Howard is being hosted by UAS Environmental Science professor Matt Heavner.  “The NASA funded SEAMONSTER project at UAS is serving as a sensor web test bed, and we have been able to collaborate with two different research groups through the NASA funding:  Dr. Ayanna Howard's Snowmote Robot project from Georgia Tech and Dr. Dipa Sura's sensor web control software project from Lockheed Marting/VanderbiltUniversity.  Several UAS faculty and students are interacting with both of these groups,” said Heavner. SEAMONSTER stands for Southeast Alaska Monitoring Network for Science Telecommunications Education and Research.

SEAMONSTER weather stations and water quality monitoring indicate how Lemon Creek and other watersheds in Southeast Alaska are responding to melting of the Juneau Ice Sheet due to climate change. The goal is to learn how changing water quality conditions may impact aspects of the food chain such as salmon spawning.

Howard unveiled the SnoMotes at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) in Pasadena, California  on May 23. The SnoMotes will also be part of an exhibit at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry in June. The research was funded by a grant from NASA’s Advanced Information Systems Technology (AIST) Program.

Links to articles on SnoMotes:

Press Release Contact

Matt Heavner, Ph.D.
UAS Assistant Professor of Physics
(907) 796-6403
Katie Bausler
University of Alaska Southeast
(907) 796-6530