Understanding Future Systems of Transportation in Arctic Regions, a Workshop


The workshop considered future innovations in transportation technology and policies in the Arctic that could address challenges associated with rapid climate change. One transportation challenge, for example, is the limited network of roads which are now being undermined by permafrost thaw and flooding; while another challenge is the subsistence based rural economies which may face food shortages. The workshop brought together a number of natural and social scientists and engineers with relevant expertise to consider how autonomous and robotic transportation might address transportation challenges of the new Arctic in the context of social, cultural, economic and environmental systems.

This workshop not only looked at the technological and engineering advancements of robotic transportation but to expand collaborations between engineers, social and natural scientists in order to develop new convergent ways of thinking about this technology and its social and environmental impacts. These issues are particularly relevant in the north because of the long distances, rural economies, fragile environments, and majority Indigenous communities that pose both opportunities and challenges to robotic transportation, particularly within the context of globalizing social and economic systems and environmental change. The workshop was structured to enhance convergent outcomes through a combination of lightning talks, co-design exercises and recombining the initial organizing committees into convergence teams. The workshop sought to promote convergence by focusing on the critical societal concern of limitations to inland transportation in the Arctic and by bringing together experts from many relevant disciplines of social science, natural science and engineering to devise new creative approaches to address these limitations.

Logistics Summary

This workshop was convened in January 2019 to explore how we can foster a transdisciplinary fundamental research agenda for next-generation transportation in the Arctic, with the broader goal of improving mobility, business, economics, and quality of life in the Arctic, and participation of local communities in needs assessment, design for local conditions, and education for participation in technology development and application. No fieldwork was associated with this project.

Principal Investigators

Co-Principal Investigators


Understanding Future Systems of Transportation in Arctic Regions: Workshop for Navigating the New Arctic
Jodi Forlizzi, George Kantor, and David Wettergreen

Robotic vehicles are just realizing the potential to improve productivity in construction, transportation, agriculture, and mining in the continental U.S., but in the Arctic, research towards using these vehicles is much less advanced. In the Arctic, development still emphasizes building roads and opening shipping lanes.


Project Outcomes

This project explored how the rapidly changing Arctic environment and rapidly advancing robotic technology produce the need and opportunity for new systems of transportation to be created.  Changing climate, particularly as it affects permafrost, will dramatically alter where and how people and materials are transported.  Conventional methods of constructing and maintaining roads, already difficult, will become untenable.  Technologies for self-driving vehicles are focused on automobiles in urban and highway settings but these methods could be developed for use off-road and over snow and ice. This project produced a workshop that brought together Arctic physical and social scientists and robotics technologists to exchange information and ideas, educate each other, and identify specific challenges and research opportunities. Collectively the group explored topics that cross disciplines and encourage research that would advance systems and methods of transportation in the Arctic. The participation of Arctic communities will be crucial in formulating these systems, ensuring their successful implementation, and evaluating their benefits and consequences. Education, not simply new technologies, will be crucial in engaging society and ensuring effective use of new methods of transportation.  These and other recommendations were produced by the workshop.  A new community of researchers has formed and is collaborating to identify and pursue convergent research in Arctic transportation.

Project PI(s)
Funded Institutions
Carnegie Mellon University
Project Start Date
Oct 2017
Award Year