Posted by on September 8, 2012

The lava lake that sits inside of the crater at Villarrica Volcano in Chile provides a unique opportunity to glimpse the molten top of a lava conduit -- the place where the underground volcanic plumbing meets the Earth's surface and where volcanic eruptions, well, erupt. It also presents a unique opportunity. Not just for science, but for sheer awesome factor. I want to sample that lake. Actually getting a sample of the lake is at this stage, let's say, not likely. My initially ever ambitious goal to simply throw, drive, or dangle something into the lake, allow some lava to glom onto that something, and then to retract said glommed lava to the surface is surely overly-ambitious. But, maybe, just maybe, I'll settle for getting a video or even a photo of the lake's surface from above. This.... this is plausible.

Villarrica's volcanic crater as seen from above

Nial, my typical go-to guy for how to make just about anything work, has less faith in this idea than I do. He's still making fun of me for my robotic endeavors. But, that does nothing more than spur me on. I just want a picture of the goddamn lava. And, I intend to (try and) get it! But, I still want to use robots! Why? Because, reasons!

My plan? Rovio.

Rovio is a toy robot with a built-in camera that wirelessly transmits video back to the user's computer, where the user is remotely controlling it's driving. Yes, yes, it's a toy. And, as Nial points out, it's probably not powerful enough to make it over the rough terrain one finds oneself up against while driving around on the inside of a volcanic crater. Nevertheless -- it doesn't hurt to try.

Robotic Rovio. The toy I want to drive into a lava lake.

The plan is to tie a tether (read: rope and maybe a bit of duct tape) to the Rovio and then drive that brave little soul toward the lake, while the user is sitting comfortably at a safe distance. Rovio will brave harsh terrain. When he reaches the conduit, he will slowly inch toward its edge, allowing the video-rover to sweetly tip over the edge and point its camera-head toward the lava lake. WHAT COULD GO WRONG.

Rovio's trajectory

If successful, this won't be the first time someone's videoed a lava lake. This won't even be the first time someone's done it at Villarrica (see Goto & Johnson, 2011). But, it will be the first time I've ever taken a video of a lava lake! And it will (unnecessarily) use a robot!! Awesome! I plan to take Rovio out for some test runs around Cambridge soon -- although I don't know that I'll find truly analogous terrain. Or hills. Or topography of any kind, really.


  1. Wandering Justin
    September 8, 2012

    The only thing that rates higher on my Badassometer than a volcanic crater is one with a lava lake in it. Those photos absolutely blow my mind. I never get tired of seeing the earth in action!

  2. Maliha Khan
    January 4, 2016

    I am a fan of your work with volcanoes, and I am doing a science project on you. I have a few questions. What pushed you to do all the things that you done? And also, more importantly, How has your research been with North Korea? Thanks so much, and it means a lot.

  1. Connecting to Your Rovio Wi-Fi Robot Ad-Hoc with Linux » kaylaiacovino3.0 - [...] I mentioned in a previous post, I am going to attempt to drive my Rovio wireless robot camera into…

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