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Traverse tractors pulls two buildings on sleds.
Photo Credit: Paul Thur/Antarctic Photo Library
A traverse tractor pulls two buildings on sleds. CRREL engineers are developing a robotic tractor that would allow one autonomous vehicle to follow one driven by a person.

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Traverse may employ robotic tractors in the future

The traverse train is not only the wave of the logistics future in Antarctic, but it may soon use some high-tech gadgetry to complete its mission even faster. Paul Thur said engineers with the U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL) External U.S. government site are beginning work on “robotic tractors” — autonomous vehicles that would follow the lead of the one in front of it.

Traverse by the Numbers

1 Pisten Bully with ground-penetrating radar

1 Caterpillar Challenger 95E with a crane

3 Caterpillar MT865Bs (2 with cranes, 1 with winch)

2 CASE STX450 QuadTracs (1 with blade)

2 CASE STX530 QuadTracs (both with blades)

In theory, a 10-member crew could drive nearly 24 hours a day. Five people would drive while five others slept in a living module. “The traverse then would be really short,” said Thur, Traverse Operations manager for Raytheon Polar Services Co. (RPSC) External Non-U.S. government site, the prime contractor for the National Science Foundation (NSF) External U.S. government site. “It would shorten it where there’s not a time crunch. Right now, it’s so close. … If we could run 24 hours a day, it would take that pressure off.”

That means the traverse could make more trips to South Pole, or support science projects in the field. This season, the crew will carry equipment to build a tall weather tower about 160 kilometers from McMurdo Station External U.S. government site for principal investigator Matthew Lazzara External Non-U.S. government site at the University of Wisconsin-Madison External Non-U.S. government site, who heads various meteorological programs.

“The last two years we’ve supported POLENET External Non-U.S. government site directly,” Thur said, referring to a network of GPS and seismic stations going up across West Antarctica. “I’m surprised there aren’t more science projects looking for traverse support.”

That could also change in the future.

Back to main story: Traverse on track.

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Curator: Michael Lucibella, Antarctic Support Contract | NSF Official: Peter West, Office of Polar Programs