Images Transmitted Today:

These images were taken with the team's digital camera:
 

These were taken with Nomad's hi-resolution pan/tilt camera:
 
 

Technical Update from Alex Foessel

General situation: Robot up and running everyday. Satisfactory progress towards the polar terrain navigation demonstration and about half the traverse around east side of Patriot Hills completed. Currently working in an area with a variety of rocks almost at the south east end of Patriot Hills. Semi successful side expedition, one meteorite found at Martin Hills. None at Pirrit Hills. Ongoing preparations for Meteorite Classification Demonstration. People healthy and motivated despite severe weather. Excellent support from FACH.

Weather: significantly worse than last season. Average temperature is -20C, wind chill factor has got to -65C. Winds and blizzards of 40 knots and gusts of 50 knots. A few very nice days with temperatures up to -10C and no wind. Currently gusts that would push a tank.

Robot: fully functional. All computers operating. Takes two hours to reach working temperature every morning. Often problems to start that are solved by priming fuel. Once started runs fine. NDDS still causes occasional problems, but does not crash more than once a day. The robot allows permanent development and testing. Mechanical running very well except for one misalignment of left steering mechanism (the steering gear missed one or two teeth while deployment on concrete in Punta Arenas, which does not effect the mobility and locomotion. The left rear wheel motor got loose while driving around Patriot Hills and was tightened. Has a problem running out of oil that actiated the generator's engine oil level sensor. After pooring oil, the sensor kept preventing the engine to start. Took almost a day to find the problem.

Polar Navigation Demonstration: Stereo perception useless in most conditions (unless very sunny and good contrast). Laser perception works fine unless severe blizzard (it detects only flying snow). Navigation based mostly on laser (tilted up a little bit to improve early obstacle detection). Back up maneuver improved, laser data processing improved to cope with flying snow, autonomous navigation improved by integration of odometry when differential GPS fails. This last was tested and showed promising results. The robot navigated towards Camp Cricket at the south east side of Patritot Hills until a rock over ice morraine. It has been there to test for more severe density of obstacles (it found almost none during this first part of the traverse). Stewart is thinking to assemble the calibration cube.

Side Expedition: One meteorite (probable chondrite) found in Martin Hills (by Luciano Bravo, one of the FACH field guides) after two hours of search. None found at Pirrit Hills after three days of search. Spectrometer was not deployed at the field. Regular color pictures were taken and rock samples brought back. That activity is finished and the Twin Otter planes might leave Patriot Hills shortly for the season. We used total of ~8.6 hours.

Meteorite Classification Demonstration: spectrometer (not mounted on the robot yet) shows problems with exposure time. Serious problems with Science color camera software that is incomplete and difficult to complete and fix. Liam prizes John Bates' work with the spectrometer code. Latest report from Liam shows a working spectrometer. Plans to mount the sensor on the robot ASAP (weather being the driver for this activity). Calibration of the science camera ongoing.

Communications: Inmarsat was deployed in Windy Pass. In one occasion digital and voice comms were possible. It has not been possible to setup the station reliably yet. This file sent through HF modem to Santiago and e-mail to USA. Wireless ethernet communication between robot, work tent, Windy Pass station and Camp Cricket (south east end of Patriot Hills) up and running. We finally had a succesful contact yesterday and images and reports were sent to FRC. We intend to keep at least comms once every other day weather permitting (the antenna is not rated for the current gusts).

Experiments: Matt successfully finished code to acquire color panoramic images. Locomotion has done one run, requires to improve acquisition code to perform the following ones. MMW radar data acquired in severe visibility (blizzards) conditions.

Future Plans: get the work done in the next two weeks to get out of here as soon as we are done. Team is comitting to be ready by November 29th. That means pushing to mount the spectrometer on Nomad and continue the traverse towards Independence Moraine (valley between the moraine and Independence Hills named Panther Hollow). Possibly assemblying the calibration cube if Stewart decides the failure of stereo is due to unsuccesful calibration.

Team: up and running.

Expedition Report from William Cassidy

20. Nov. 15, 1998: Patriot Hills Camp

I woke up a little after 8 a.m. and went over to the dining tent. It was completely deserted. The morning was gorgeous. After a while, Mike came in and we heated some water for coffee.

Talking to Mike, I gained some insights into last year's report of the field work that I had not had earlier. It seems that last year, when Nomad was in autonomous mode it would run for some distance and then stop at an obstacle, which might or might not be real. Then Mike, or someone else would go out to it, back it up and detour it around the real or nonexistent obstacle. After that it would travel further in autonomous mode until it stopped again. At the end of the day, these autonomous segments would be added together and the sum reported as "meters of autonomous travel." Unless this is understood, the goals for autonomous travel for this year may be set unnaturally high.

The morning turned into a windy one, with gusts from the south, followed by a more or less steady onslaught, with blowing snow. Mike had been out to Nomad around 7 a.m. and had started it up, to initiate the 2-hour warming process. Stewart wanted to go out to Nomad to get some more data on its navigating capabilities but not many people were up, so I agreed to accompany him to the site. The generator at Camp Crickett had stopped running the day before; Stewart had brought it in, but no one had yet looked at it. Normally, Stewart would have been at Camp Crickett, overlooking the scene from the tent and using the generator to power his computer. But without the generator he had to rely on batteries and hooking his computer directly to Nomad. He took a number of laser and stereo camera images of the scene around Nomad, for later analysis in Pittsburgh. He also drove the robot in a complete circle, to be able to see any differences that might exist in the recorded images due to sun angle. During this operation his computer blew off Nomad's carapace but was apparently undamaged. A problem he had was that he had to operate his computer's mousepad with bare fingers, and his hands were getting cold. When they gt too cold, there was another problem: the mousepad did not respond. So eventually he gave up and declared himself ready to return to camp.

I had been pacing around, looking at rocks. There are numerous dust bands associated with the moraine, and to me there seemed to be a zonation in types of rock on the surface: to the east the rocks were predominantly greyish possible limestones and to the west they were more slaty-appearing, with quartz veins. I couldn't suggest a reason for this apparent zonation -- it is just an observation.

When Stewart suggested returning, I was amenable and we drove back without incident.

The last two days had been magnificent, but we got very little accomplished. Alex apparently sensed a problem and suggested we try for an earlier departure date than originally planned: he had learned that there are two planes due to arrive on Dec. 1. I think this is a sound strategy, whether we make an earlier flight date, or not, because in any case the work will expand to fill the available time and we will be in a feverish rush at the end; this would be true even if we had 2 months to finish up.

The storm is waxing, with strong, gusty winds that blow snow through camp and deposit linear dunes downwind of obstructions and irregularities on the surface. This changing topography produced a big step down to the entrance to the dining tent. I thought I could negotiate it by kicking a little ledge into the dropoff surface with my heel, but I was wrong; it was solid ice and I landed on my back and my elbows. Now my shoulders will hurt for a while.

Matt, Mike and Sib headed down to Nomad to get it running again and to try to get some data tonight. I suggested they wait for gentler winds, pointing out that they had no guarantee the winds would not get even stronger before eventually subsiding. They felt they were ready for any eventuality, however, including being forced to spend the night at Camp Crickett, so off they went. They came back in the wee hours of the morning.

In Antarctica, you can count on getting punched in the face by the weather; more than once. My philosophy is to try to roll with the punches, waiting out the storms and taking advantage of good weather when it comes along. My colleagues seem to take bad weather as a challenge, fighting it tooth and nail. Who knows? Perhaps if I were their age...?

Our big 5kw generator has frozen up and when I returned from dinner, Alex, Pascal and Liam were wrestling it into the Endurance tent, where by morning it may be unfrozen. In the meantime, however, it's a massive heat sink that smells strongly of gasoline.

Lately there have been some quiet periods between wind gusts, so maybe this is the first sign the storm is abating. Then again, maybe not.