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Roving on Thin Ice

January 14 2017

With robots, we can go to places that are dangerous for humans. Due to the mild winter this year, the ice covering on the bay is not entirely solid. We saw a mound of dirt on the ice a few meters away from the shoreline and were curious as to what it was. We will deploy the Robot Missions robot to investigate. Join us on this expedition to see what we will find!

January 14 2017


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Debriefing Stage


The ice has now melted on Collins Bay, and the ground is starting to thaw out. It will soon be time for more shoreline explorations, but without ice!

Some improvements to make on the robot are:

  • Ensure there is threadlock on the set screws
  • Use a longer rope for tether
  • Add flotation devices to robot (just in case)
  • Make a waterproof battery box (just in case)
  • Take still photos on the camera in addition to video; sometimes the footage was a little shaky to get a sharp screen grab
  • Have a handle on the robot for carrying (already done!)
  • Have a smoother pan up/down option instead of directly controlling with joystick
  • Custom wheels for ice

A key item we noticed was we should really use the robot's point of view to its advantage. This means taking more photos and videos of the ground underneath, as well as the plants and stunning horizon view.

Also, it would have been better if we started out earlier in the day. By the time it was the end and I recorded the outro, it was so dark you couldn't see me. Bringing a tripod next trip is necessary to capture another view point and reduce shake... especially when it's cold outside.

All in all, it was an interesting journey to bring the robot into such cold weather and operate it on ice! We can almost dream of glacier explorations... Maybe one day!

Special thanks to the Open Explorer community for following this expedition and commenting. It's been nice to share the journey with all of you

Here's how you can be a part of Robot Missions!

Mission Underway

GPS Map of Robot Data

GPS coordinates of where the robot travelled - View map on Carto

Darker blue = colder temperature

Bigger circle = higher altitude


Very cool!

Thanks David! It would be neat if there was higher res satellite imagery (like from Planet Labs) to show more of the land formation details - or perhaps a drone next time

Check out our video of the experience!

This is a great overview video. Nice job!

Thanks David! Grateful for image stabilisation post-processing to remove the shakey camera hand from the frigid cold :)

Looking at plants

Continuing on the trek, we were able to look at some frozen plants! We believe these would be the lower stalks of cattails.

Although it is rather ordinary, what we find exciting here is that we're able to look at this, a distance away from the coastline, with the robot. It's a prime opportunity to use this technique to see what else we can find.

No prob

Vid clip showing the robot going on after losing a wheel

Something Unexpected

Sometimes when out in the field you encounter things that are unexpected. This is one of the best parts, as it is a prime opportunity for learning!

In this case, we encountered not just one wheel... but two wheels coming loose from the robot.

Earlier before this expedition, we were trying to change to different wheels. This involved loosening the set screw that attaches the motor hub onto the gear motor's axel. When reinstalling, we didn't add the same thread lock as we did on the other side.

Thus, with all of the vibrations from the robot moving, it ended up loosening the set screws and causing them to fall off.

It wasn't too bad- the robot was still able to explore with the other two wheels, and it helped to retrieve the ones that fell off.


Robot point of view

With the robot, we can see some interesting looking bubbles that formed in the ice. This was in the area that was less snow/ice covered than the others. The exploration continues!


Trek to Destination

The robot handles just fine on the ice, even though these wheels are primarily for sand. Having some snow-ice on the surface provides friction so there is traction to move the robot forward.

It will take a bit of time to get to the destination. Since the tether isn't long enough, we'll be moving along the ground / frozen cattails following the bot.

Watching this clip afterwards, we are mesmerised at the sounds of the crackling ice as the robot moves across it. Wow!

These videos and updates are awesome. Excited to be following along!

Thanks David! Next update will have a bit of a plot twist!

The Destination

We noticed a mound of dirt or plants a few meters from the shoreline that would be interesting to look at. Questions are stirring in our minds: What exactly is it? What could be there? What can we find out about this now, with the ice here?


Overcoming the ice sheets to entry area

In order to get to where we wanted the robot to go, we would have to pass by a few obstacles first. There's ice sheets angled upwards that are just before the entry to the 'smoother' part of the bay where it's frozen over.

The obstacles don't look too intense, and the robot will be able to handle it

With some creative driving, we were able to get it past these obstacles and to the entry area! What's great is seeing the robot's point of view too

After the robot overcomes the obstacles, we're rewarded with a stunning view of the bay

Onwards next- travelling to the point of interest

image-1 image-1

Nice job!

Thanks David! It's just the start - more twists and turns to come

Preparation Stage

With just a few steps we were through the ice. So it's good we're going to be using a robot for this! More to come as we'll begin driving the robot

Robot point of view when driving to overcome the ice sheets

Expedition Background

You know when you are on the shores of Collins Bay in the summer. The view is stunning, with the open Lake Ontario in the distance. Canadian geese are quietly sitting on their rocks. That is, until something disturbs them and they all begin squawking. The smell is unmistakable.

We regularly tested the robot here. The land provided a mixture of loose dirt, medium sized stones, mud, and cattails for the robot to rove around in.

Now it is winter, and it's a bit different. The geese have departed. Though, it seems oddly mild this year. There's more to explore now that the ice is here, but it isn't completely frozen over.

A perfect case to use the robot!

The Robot Missions robot is a tool for citizen scientists for debris retrieval, exploration, and mobile sensor monitoring. It's entirely 3D printed, so anywhere you go in the world that has a printer, you can modify or make replacement parts.

For this expedition, we removed the scoop end effector and attached a GoPro. We have a GPS unit payload to track the robot's location, as well as record temperature, humidity, and altitude.

Join us and watch our journey unfold as we deploy the robot onto thin ice!


I love this! Very excited to be following along with your adventure.

Thanks David! :)