Antarctic robotics accelerate delivery of climate science

12 January 2023

The Australian Antarctic Program is looking for opportunities to use robotic technology to advance research into climate and ecosystem changes on the coldest, iciest and driest continent on Earth. 

Specialised robotic technology will accelerate the delivery of Australia’s world-class science in the harsh Antarctica and the Southern Ocean environments. 

Professor Peter Corke from the QUT Centre for Robotics is working with the Program to identify opportunities for use of robotics. He is using his national and international networks to advance their development specifically for Antarctic use.

Opportunities for robotics in Antarctica could include:

  • Drones for whale tagging and tissue sampling;
  • Autonomous ground vehicles for soil sampling, or travelling to and servicing remote camp sites;
  • Autonomous aerial vehicles for long-range geophysical surveys of the ice sheet; and
  • Underwater vehicles to survey beneath the sea ice, or upload data from seafloor moorings.

The technology will join other robotics already utilised in Antarctic science, such as:

  • Remotely operated vehicles which document never-before-seen seafloor communities beneath the sea ice; 
  • Automated weather stations used in remote areas of East Antarctica; and 
  • Remotely operated cameras which monitor breeding colonies of Adélie penguins.

The work complements science programs underway, upgrades to Australia’s Antarctic stations, and commissioning of the world-leading scientific icebreaker RSV Nuyina.

Quotes attributable to the Minister for the Environment and Water, the Hon Tanya Plibersek MP: 

“Australia’s science in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean provides a window into past and present climate that helps informs us about the extent and consequences of climate change.

“We are looking at robotic technology to safely allow scientists into inaccessible areas and to improve the speed and efficiency of data collection.

“Academia and industry are working together to develop and adapt robotic technologies for the harsh Antarctic environment in the delivery of globally important climate and ecosystem science.”