Imperial technology supports expedition across the most inhospitable continent on Earth

Dr Robin North, from the Centre for Transport Studies.

Scientists will use digital plasters, mobile pollution monitors and black box sensor technology to monitor Antarctic expedition <em>– News and video</em>

Friday 11 June 2010
by Colin Smith

A team of Imperial College London scientists will provide the engineering know-how behind a 3,600 kilometre trek across the most inhospitable continent on Earth, they announced yesterday at the official launch of the expedition.

The scientists will partner the Moon Regan Trans-Antarctic Expedition team, who are travelling across the entire length of Antarctica in November. The researchers will provide a network of mobile wireless sensors, developed at the College, which will continuously monitor the health of the explorers, assess the environmental impact of their vehicles, monitor the environment, check satellite positioning and navigation systems to characterise their performance and solar power technology to melt snow to provide drinking water for the team.

The wireless sensors will continuously transmit the data to a computer that will be stored on one of the six-wheeled drive Science Support Vehicles (SSVs), which are mobile laboratories that are the size of a mini bus, so that the scientists and explorers can access information about the expedition in real time. The computer will also be connected to a satellite phone so that information from the sensors can be beamed back to the UK for further analysis by researchers based at the College.

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In the video (right), Imperial researchers Dr Robin North, from the Centre for Transport Studies in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Professor Chris Toumazou, Director of the Institute of Bioengineering, and Antarctic explorer, Mr Andrew Regan, will talk about the how they will maximise contribution of the expedition to research in Antarctica.

The sensors will be worn by the explorers and fitted to their transport, which comprise two SSVs. Sensors will also be fitted to the Winston Wong BioInspired Ice Vehicle (WWBIV), which will slide along on skis in front of the convoy, using radar to detect dangerous crevasses along the route.

One of the aims of the expedition is to evaluate the performance of biofuel, which will be used to power the WWBIV. The scientists will also assess the energy efficiency and environmental impact of the SSVs, which the team believe could provide a viable alternative to light aircraft that emit high levels of CO₂.

Researchers from the Centre for Transport Studies (CTS) at the College will provide mobile pollution sensors, which can measure multiple types of vehicle pollutants at once. The mobile pollution sensors will be fitted to the exhaust pipes of the SSVs to monitor their emissions.

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CTS researchers are also installing sensors on the engine of the SSVs to measure their efficiency. The scientists say these sensors will act like an aeroplane black box for the car, recording information such as fuel consumption and vehicle reliability, enabling the scientists to assess the overall performance of the cars.

Another aim of the expedition is to understand how humans perform in extreme conditions. Scientists from the Winston Wong Centre for BioInspired Technology at Imperial’s Institute of Biomedical Engineering will provide ‘digital plasters’, which will be worn by explorers at all times to monitor their vital signs such as heart rate, temperature and respiration. The disposable digital plaster is the size of a small patch, which will enable the team to have their health monitored without being wired up to bulky monitoring machines.

Imperial researchers from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering will also be using a positioning receiver, which will be used to assess the performance of satellite positioning and navigation systems used in the polar region. The team will monitor, on different frequencies, the signals received from the Russian satellite navigation and positioning system called GLONASS and the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS) to test their performance.

The researchers believe the expedition will take approximately 40 days to complete. The team will begin on the west coast of Antarctica, leaving from Patriot Hills. They will travel to the South Pole, arriving at the McMurdo research station on the other side of the continent.

The project is supported by the Faculty of Engineering, the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the Winston Wong Centre for BioInspired Technology at the Institute of Biomedical Engineering. The expedition is partly funded by Imperial alumnus Professor Winston Wong.

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