A New Robot Provided These Unprecedented Views Beneath Antarctica

By Jamie Condliffe on at

A team of researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology has built a new needle-like robot that can descend through ice-fields to explore the sea floor beneath —and this footage from Antarctica is the first footage it’s returned.

The robot, known as, Icefin was sent through a 12-inch diameter bore hole drilled through 20 metres of ice at Antarctica’s Ross Ice Shelf. Descending through a further 500 metres of water, it found the sea floor where it recorded these images (its capable of descending to 1,500 metres below if it has to). The team were then somehow able to retrieve the robot, too. You can see a time-lapse of its deployment below. Mick West, a lead engineer on the project, explains what makes Icefin so special in a press release:

“What truly separates Icefin from some of the other vehicles is that it’s fairly slender, yet still has all of the sensors that the scientists... need. Our vehicle has instrumentation aboard both for navigation and ocean science that other vehicles do not.”

Using sonar and SLAM (simultaneous localization and mapping) algorithms, Icefin created a 3D map of the region in which it launched, helping the team find their way round and acquire the video and data readings they wanted. The footage revealed a complex collection of life on the sea floor—including sea stars, sponges and anemones, which came as a surprise to some biologists.

But the team behind the robot has bigger plans than looking at the sea floor beneath Antarctica. It’s hoped that the technologies developed for this mission will be borrowed by explorers destined for Europa—a moon of Jupiter with ice-capped oceans that are calling out to be explored. [Georgia Tech]