A buoyant rover has been developed to traverse the underside of ice-covered lakes and seas. The rover operates at the ice/water interface and permits direct observation and measurement of processes affecting freeze- over and thaw events in lake and marine environments. Operating along the 2- D ice-water interface simplifies many aspects of underwater exploration, especially when compared to submersibles, which have difficulty in station-keeping and precision mobility.

Figure 1. The JPL Buoyant Under- Ice Rover shown on the ice (left) and crawling on the underside of the ice (right) during a 2012 field campaign in Alaska. For scale, the rover is 0.54 m wide.
The buoyant rover consists of an all aluminum body with two aluminum sawtooth wheels. The two independent body segments are sandwiched between four actuators that permit isolation of wheel movement from movement of the central tether spool. For normal operations, the wheels move while the tether spool feeds out line and the cameras on each segment maintain a user-controlled fixed position. Typically one camera targets the ice/water interface and one camera looks down to the lake floor to identify seep sources. Each wheel can be operated independently for precision turning and adjustments. The rover is controlled by a touch-tablet interface and wireless goggles enable realtime viewing of video streamed from the rover cameras.

Figure 2. Computer aided design (CAD) model of the JPL Buoyant Under Ice Rover showing the two independent chassis regions each with wheel, camera, and instrument capability. The central tether spool can also operate independent of the side chassis.
The buoyant rover was successfully deployed and tested during an October 2012 field campaign to investigate methane trapped in ice in lakes along the North Slope of Alaska.

This work was done by John M. Leichty, Andrew T. Klesh, Daniel F. Berisford, Jaret B. Matthews, and Kevin P. Hand of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. NPO-48863

This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).
Positive-Buoyancy Rover for Under Ice Mobility

(reference NPO-48863) is currently available for download from the TSP library.

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