Robotic Rovers

Providing Better Knowledge of Polar Landscapes

Published Nov. 19, 2012
The Yeti rover at the South Pole.

The Yeti rover at the South Pole.

The rover can help prevent incidents such as this, when a tractor broke through a snow bridge over an undetected crevasse.

The rover can help prevent incidents such as this, when a tractor broke through a snow bridge over an undetected crevasse.

The remote location and harsh environment of research stations in polar climates have a significant impact on the logistics of the work scientists are doing there. The icy terrain includes deep, often unseen, crevasses. A robotic rover, known as Yeti, developed at ERDC’s Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL), in partnership with Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College, conducts ground-penetrating radar (GPR) surveys to provide greater understanding of the terrain and highlight potential safety hazards.

Painting a More Complete Picture

While manual GPR surveys are effective, they are limited. The sometimes treacherous conditions make it difficult—and potentially dangerous—to survey areas comprehensively. The mobility of the Yeti rover allows it to cross thinly bridged crevasses and subsurface voids that manual survey vehicles cannot, creating a more comprehensive survey.

The GPR surveys taken by the rover also lay the groundwork for more sophisticated surveys to improve hazard detection and increase assessment confidence. Yeti’s mobility allows it to drive through moderately rough terrain, and it relies on algorithms that draw on previous readings to identify areas where immobilization may occur.

A Durable Training Tool

The ability to survey areas that might otherwise not be reached lets the rover generate more comprehensive results that in turn can help establish more efficient travel routes that are shorter and more level. The Yeti also does not have the same restrictions in terms of time and coverage that manual surveys do, meaning it can spend more time traveling greater distances in order to record measurements.

The Yeti rover has surveyed hundreds of crevasses on its numerous treks, and the data from those encounters has helped reveal the differentiation of crevasses based on approach angle. Using this information, researchers can train human operators and machine-learning algorithms to recognize potential crevasses.


The Yeti rover has already been used successfully as a research platform to assess different radars for crevasse detection, to develop methods to characterize rover mobility, and to classify terrain properties.

It also helped locate a previously undetected building at the South Pole. By conducting continuous GPR surveys across two different directions, the rover revealed multiple, independent detections of a previously unknown hazard—building A10—buried within the ice.


  • Weighs 81 kg (not including the towed 15-kg GPR ) and measures 1.1-m x 1.1-m x 0.9-m-high
  • Antenna/inner-tube assembly. Ground pressure of 3 PSI, lighter than a person walking
  • GPS waypoint following and hazard geo-referencing
  • Operates reliably at -30 C
  • Brushless DC motors located in the hubs drive each of the four wheels independently
  • Chassis freely pivots between the front and rear assemblies
  • Front box contains the power electronics, microcontroller, radio modem, and GPS receiver
  • Rear box contains six lithium-ion batteries to power the rover and house the GPR controller

ERDC Points of Contact

Questions about robotic rovers?
Contact: James Lever
Phone: 603-646-4309
Updated 23 Oct. 2020