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Robotic Measurement of Aeolian Processes

Sonia Roberts 1, Douglas Jerolmack6, Nick Lancaster3, George Nikolich3, Paul Reverdy1, Thomas Shipley2, Scott Van Pelt5, Ted Zobeck4, Daniel E. Koditschek1
1University of Pennsylvania, Electrical and Systems Engineering, Philadelphia, PA, USA, 2Temple University, Department of Psychology, Philadelphia, PA, USA, 3Desert Research Institute, Reno, NV, USA, 4USDA Agricultural Research Service, Wind Erosion and Water Conservation Research Unit, Lubbock, TX, USA, 5USDA Agricultural Research Service, Wind Erosion and Water Conservation Research Unit, Big Spring, TX, USA, 6University of Pennsylvania, Earth and Environmental Science, Philadelphia, PA, USA

Measurements of sand transport and dust emission in complex natural settings presently lack adequate spatiotemporal resolution to inform models relevant for land management, climate policy, and the basic science of geomorphology. Data from wind, sand, and dust sensors are typically obtained from stationary instrumentation and therefore limited spatially, while aerial data from satellites, planes, and UAVs are limited temporally, as data is only collected during specific and rare events. We are interested in the application of a rough-terrain legged robot (RHex) to aeolian data collection, which would act as a mobile sensing unit and thus not share these limitations. To this end, we have performed preliminary locomotion and data collection trials with RHex at Jornada Long-Term Experimental Range, White Sands National Monument, and Little Dumont Dunes. We also built a tilting bed of sand at the University of Pennsylvania to assess relevant robot locomotion capabilities in more controlled conditions. We present a preliminary assessment of the feasibility of using this robot to perform some specific aeolian experiments, including gathering measurements of airflow and rates of particle transport on a dune, assessing the role of roughness elements such as vegetation in modifying the wind shear stresses incident on the surface, and estimating erosion susceptibility in an arid soil.