ESTEM Antarctica goes Iridium GO!
Guest Blogger: Nuno Sidónio Andrade Pereira, Polytechnic Institute of Beja – Portugal
February 8, 2019. We land in King George island, South Shetland, Antarctica Peninsula. The sky was grey (as usual), and the landscape is almost like a black and white old movie. It’s windy, and cold. The gloves were still in the pocket of my jacket, and I could feel my fingers freezing…it’s good to be back in Antarctica!
This was “day one” of my second campaign. This year, the project ESTEM Antarctica(*), brought us (me and my colleague Tânia) to the Bulgarian Antarctic Base, in Livingston. The project is about Physical Computing, STEM education, and Virtual Reality. We were testing simple Arduino-based data acquisition systems with environmental sensors, using robots programmed by students, and taking 360º pictures of wildlife and landscapes to be used for education and science outreach activities. The idea of the project is to engage students and educators in topics related to Antarctica, like the preservation of the landscape, the protection of wildlife, and above all, to understand the impact this region has on the global system we call Earth! We must succeed in engaging society in this cause, and keep Antarctica a pristine region for scientific purposes only. This is our legacy for the future.
Iridium GO! was not just a piece of hardware, it was our link to the rest of the world
On the first campaign, we missed the possibility of giving feedback to the student teams on the per-formance of their programs during the robots’ field tests. Without this possibility of contact we lost the dynamic of the project. Fortunately, this year we had an Iridium GO! and that made all the differ-ence! Not only we were able to give feedback to the students, but they were able to send us upgraded versions of the programs, to be tested again on the robots. This may sound like no big deal but, imag-ine being in Antarctica, thousands of miles from home, and exchanging mail with your cell phone…in Antarctica! This was really amazing- the feeling of being connected. Something we take for granted these days, but it is not the case on the Poles!!
Last, but definitely not the least, Iridium GO! had a very important role in the well being of the team. During a campaign, we want to optimize time and tasks. We spend most of the time working, to get the most out of the campaign. When the day was over and it was the time when we would normally join our families, we missed them! And then, with that little box (Iridium GO!), we could make a call, from the other side of the world, and hear a familiar voice. This simple moment makes all the differ-ence, and boosts our motivation. After all, we are just humans, and as humans we need to communi-cate, to say how we feel, and how we miss our loved ones. Iridium GO! was not just a piece of hard-ware, it was our link to the rest of the world.
(*) Project with financial support of FCT, I.P./MCTES through national funds (PIDDAC) and the Portuguese Polar Program (PROPOLAR)
More information on the project can be found in https://pt-br.facebook.com/AntarcticaEducation/, and here (in Portuguese, offical PROPOLAR site) http://www.propolar.org/diario-de-campanha-2018-19/esteem-antarctica_1-objectivos-atingidos