Robots to assist researchers on Antarctic preservation program

The seven-year project will track the impact climate change is having on the most southern part of the world.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

Robotics, machine learning, data science, and mathematical modelling are just some of the tools that a group of researchers will use to forecast environmental changes across Antarctica as part of a seven-year research project.

To be led by Monash University, the Securing Antarctica's Environmental Future (SAEF) project will involve 30 Australian and overseas organisations, including Queensland University of Technology (QUT), University of Wollongong, University of New South Wales, James Cook University, University of Adelaide, the South Australian Museum, and the Western Australian Museum.

According to QUT Institute for Future Environments executive director Kerrie Wilson, who will form part of the program's leadership team, the research aims to "bring new perspectives to Antarctic conservation".

"Antarctica is facing unprecedented threats from climate change, fishing, visitation, and other human activities. Safeguarding its future will require new ideas, and collaborations between different fields of science," she told ZDNet.

Wilson said one aspect of the project would be to build specific robotic systems to collect data and informing scientific models. She explained that these robots would feature "tough batteries and tough sensors" to withstand brutal Antarctic conditions.

"Antarctica is the world's most challenging environment. The extreme conditions that faced Australia's earliest polar explorers also face its robotic technology," she said. 

"SAEF's research program will design new, hardened robots that can operate under these freezing conditions drawing on expertise at QUT and partner organisation the Auckland University of Technology."

Some of the specific discoveries that the group hopes to make includes being able to "predict the future of the continent's enormous ice-sheets, and the fragile biodiversity that lives in its oceans and mountains".

"But we also know that, to conserve Antarctica, we also need to understand the continent's geopolitics", Wilson said.

Wilson is also optimistic the research will produce "new technologies and statistical approaches to integrate diverse data sets and information environmental stewardship, and quantitative approaches to inform environmental decision making in Antarctica".

Earlier this week, the federal government awarded the program AU$36 million over seven years under the Australian Research Council's Special Research Initiative for Excellence in Antarctic Science.

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