Underwater Polar SIM

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The IPY: Polar Hydrobot Simulator (or Polar-SIM) was designed to be a sophisticated computer-based simulation of configuring, piloting, operating and collecting data with an underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV) in polar ocean and lake waters.

The simulation is designed to address specific STEM learning goals. Users of the simulator make design decisions concerning the hydrobots they create; deal with navigation issues such as directional propellers, buoyancy, cameras, lights, power management, and tether management; and work to obtain scientific data including sonar mapping of the sea floor and bio-census data for the region. The virtual ROVs options have a host of scientific instruments for examining extreme environments in the search for different kinds of life.


The Polar-SIM project is an informal science education project with linkages to K-12 education. The target audience was upper elementary through high school students in out-of-school environments.


In support of NSF goals to entice young people to STEM careers through unique learning opportunities, The IPY: Polar Hydrobot Simulator was generated as a multifaceted challenging activity requiring the development of a base of polar science content knowledge to successfully play the “game.” The content included Antarctic geography and geology, marine biology, links to astrobiology, and the technology and skills needed to conduct underwater exploration in unique polar environments.

scini2Real World Links

The SIM was designed with the realism needed to provide training for student competitors in annual regional, national, and international hydrobot ROV competitions conducted through the Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) Center ( To this end, the virtual Polar-SIM hydrobot was designed after the actual polar hydrobot called SCINI.


Project Background

EUROPA-SIM: The project leveraged financially and developmentally from a prior pilot project funded by NASA entitled Virtual Prototyping a Europa Exploration. That small project prototyped a virtual simulator for a futuristic hydrobot designed to explore the large saline sea widely thought by researchers to exist under the thick surface ice of Jupiter’s moon, Europa.

The Europa-SIM simulator, unlike Polar-SIM, required the coordination of several isolated operators working remotely but in real-time concert to manage hydrobot operations and scientific investigations. Building on the success and lessons learned from Europa-SIM, PI McLain and the development team sought to generate a more realistic simulator akin to those exploring Earth analog sites for extreme environments like Europa. Therefore the team became interested in the work going on in Antarctica.

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