Design and power management of a solar-powered “Cool Robot” for polar instrument networks



The Cool Robot is a four-wheel-drive, solar-powered, autonomous robot designed to support summertime science campaigns in Antarctica and Greenland over distances exceeding 500 km. This paper provides an overview of key features of the robot, including design for good mobility, high efficiency, and long-term deployment under solar power in harsh polar environments. The Cool Robot's solar panel box, comprising panels on four sides and a top panel, encounters insolation variations with a bandwidth of up to 1 Hz due to sastrugi. The paper details a unique photovoltaic control algorithm to accommodate these variations. We deployed the robot at Summit Camp, Greenland to validate its mobility and power budget and to assess the photovoltaic control system. The 61 kg robot drove continuously at 0.78 m/s on soft snow, its 160 W average power demand met by solar power alone under clear skies above 16° sun elevation. The power-control system reliably matched input with demand as insolation varied during testing. A simple GPS waypoint-following algorithm provides low-bandwidth path planning and course correction and demonstrated reliable autonomous navigation during testing over periods of 5–8 h. Field data validate the Cool Robot design models and indicate that it will exceed its design goal of carrying a 15 kg payload 500 km across Antarctica in 2 weeks. A brief description of instrument payloads and scientific studies aided by networks of such autonomous solar robots is provided. © 2007 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.