In December 2014, a delegation from U.S. Army RDECOM Forward Element Command-Americas (RFEC-AME) led by Mr. José Miguel Larenas visited the Chilean Army’s O’Higgins Base in the Antarctic. The expedition was in response to an earlier invitation by the Chilean Army Chief of Staff, General Humberto Oviedo.
The primary goal of the expedition was to support the development of a joint U.S.-Chilean seed technology project entitled: Polar Traversing Robotics for Autonomous, Collaborative and Efficient Reconnaissance (Polar TRACER). This project involves RFEC-AME, the Chilean Army’s Directorate for Projects and Research, the United States Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Army Cold Region Research and Engineering Laboratory, and the private Laboratory INNERVYCS represented by its CEO Ian Hughes.
According to Mr. Larenas, the purpose of the Polar TRACER project is “to jointly develop an autonomous unmanned ground system to operate under extreme cold environments capable of detecting and characterizing crevasses to determine the best possible and safest routes for ground logistics.” The project aims to raise the level of reliability of cargo convoys over Antarctic ice/snow, thus lowering polar logistics costs by switching from airborne to ground logistics/resupply, and lowering the overall risk level to the human operator.
The expedition was a success. Initial measurements were taken to gain relevant on-site information to optimize the proof-of-concept design of the Polar TRACER unmanned ground vehicle. The team also measured the albedo and snow compactness at different locations under different types of snow, and tested a quad-copter unmanned aerial vehicle for future work to detect crevasses, and capture other environmental variables. The way forward includes working groups, the standup of an integrated product team, and additional visits to the Antarctic in late 2015.
RFEC-AME is the international representative of the U.S. Army’s Research, Development, and Engineering Command, and its purpose is to identify international collaborative research opportunities in science and technology development. RFEC-AME is located at the U.S. Embassy in Santiago, Chile.