US-based Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) has developed a new innovative robot to carry out scientific research in the Arctic environment.
Known as Nereid Under Ice (NUI), the new system can be operated by pilots on a surface ship through a lightweight, micro-thin and fibre-optic tether, which relays environmental data in real-time.
It is capable of providing high-definition imagery and maps, and collects data beneath undisturbed sea-ice, away from the disruptive impact of an ice-breaking research ship.
The $3m robot has been developed with financial support from the National Science Foundation and WHOI.
In July this year, the system was successfully tested on a scientific expedition aboard the Alfred Wegener Institute’s ice-breaker Polarstern.
WHOI National Deep Submergence Facility director and lead principal investigator for the project Andy Bowen said: "The fibre-optic tether permits [the] NUI to travel farther from the ship than a conventional tether would allow.
"The tether enables the vehicle to reach heavier ice cover away from the ship, or to move closer to the calving front of a glacier, while still remaining under direct human control."
The vehicle is equipped with a ‘come home’ control system, which can be used if the tether breaks or becomes entangled. In such situations, the system will be operated as a free-swimming, autonomous vehicle.
As part of the Polarstern expedition, the robot made four dives to a maximum depth of 45m and the distance of the dives reached up to 800m away from the ship.
It also completed 3.7km of track-line surveys under moving sea ice.
Image: The new robot will offer scientists a new way to interact with and observe the polar environment. Photo: courtesy of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.