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.  Advanced technologies like autonomous navigation and low-pressure mobility systems offer many potential benefits in the Arctic, such as gentle impact on the environment and wildlife, more adaptability to changing conditions and economic opportunity for communities.  However the region’s remote and extreme environments, extremely low temperatures, poor visibility, and deformable terrain are a challenge for autonomous navigation as it exists today. 

The goal of this workshop was to create conversation among scientists for envisioning how autonomous and robotic transportation might be put to use in the Arctic, and the social, economic, and environmental dimensions that would be entailed in doing so.

This workshop explored 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. To encourage convergence, which we define as integrating the methods, theories, and cultures of relevant disciplines, the workshop that involved discussion and active engagement of experts from many disciplines, including Arctic science, computer science, robotics, human-computer interaction, social and economic sciences, education science, and governance and policy studies. Collectively, the group explored topics that cross disciplines, and encourage research that would advance autonomous and robotic transportation in the Arctic.

The workshop distilled group activities and discussion to actionable recommendations:

  1. Organize a series of community-based workshops in the Arctic involving natural sciences, social sciences, and anthropology with stakeholder participation to collaboratively iterate on issues and uses of technology to improve daily life. 
  2. Prioritize understanding technology needs, wants, and desires, locally, and in small groups, with diverse stakeholders. This will ensure buy-in from everyone from end users to policymakers in developing technology that will fundamentally change Arctic regions.
  3. Seek application areas for new transportation systems. These may include, but are not limited to, waste and garbage removal, healthcare, social connection, road development and maintenance, and others.

Focus additional resources on the cognitive, behavioral, and legal implications of a Arctic with semi-autonomous and autonomous vehicles, with particular emphasis on the development of new knowledge that maintains agency and privacy of Arctic stakeholders.