Let's Make Robots!

How can i measure the thickness of ice

How can i measure the thickness of ice.

Is there an easy way either with IR or Laser to do this.

Why :-  It would be far safer to send a robotic car across an ice lake to test if the ice is thick enough for skating - or even in a rescue type operation.

Any answers however lateral and crazy welcome.......

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Just some new input about this idea. It is very hard for a hobbyst to build such robot. Why?


Because the sensor used for measuring ice thickness is 99 percent of the time a GPR (ground penetrating radar). It is somewhat expensive to buy and pretty dangerous to make yourself. It is also necessary to have a very high knowledge of electrical engineering . There is the Yeti rover (based around polar regions) which is using that technology but he is one of the most advanced rover existing right now. I am still looking for an alternative method of measuring ice thickness feel free to keep posting ideas.

basile's picture

Just for you I hit the G-search and I found those:
Sea Ice and Snow Thickness,
IceTec8 Flyer,
IceTec8 Manual,
Ice thickness measuring system patent (look that the IceTec8 is described in it) and
Portable temperate ice depth sounder radar (TIDSoR) (but I can't see it because I don't have an account)


How about hitting the ice and measuring the following vibrations? If it is too unstable, you'll certainly know.

IM interested in building such a robot too. Any developpment on that project Gareth?

I thought of a thermal sensor sensing for ice. The warmer the thinner the ice? no?

I want some news!



I found some new interesting links. Seems there are at least 3 different sensors used for ice thickness 

  • Ultrasound
  • Radar
  • Proton-magentic spin sensors

Snow and Ice Thickness RADAR System


A friend of mine happens to have an ex-navy  proton-magentic spin sensor that he uses for finding ship-wrecks.It looks a bit like a torpedo and is towed behind his boat.  He was able to hack it and interface it to a PC-based GPS system to track deviations from the normal magnetic earth fields to find large steel structures on the sea-bed (ships). This seems a bit similar to the canadian ice probe. http://www.mar.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/science/ocean/seaice/ice_probe_e.html I'll ask him if he has ideas about using that technology for ice detection. But I think Ultrasonic is probably easier.


So long


Hi guys!

I live in Sweden and I have recently discovered how fun it is to go icekiting


To see what ice-kiting is have a look at:



However, it is very difficult to judge the ice and especially the sea ice is tricky but also lake ice can be treacherous.

So i thought maybe a robot could be built using arduino and ultrasound transducers to check the ice. I think (ultra) sound is probably the best method since the optical properties are so very much varying due to trapped air bubbles and snow.

I found this document "the use of sonar to measure ice thickness"



What do you think ? Has anyone here started building anything yet? 

Gareth's picture

Thanks for your links ..... wow that looks exilerating.

I am tending to agee that ultrasound would be the right direction.

Last week we had sub zero temparatures (down to -8°C at one stage) so i managed freeze a sample block of ice to experiment with......

I tried "all-ways" to shine a laser and catch the reflected light - however as you mentioned "above" the ice is full of bubbles.

So basically i ended up with a mish-mash of signals - and no clear defined reflected laser spot.

My Laser experiment was a failure - my guess is that for 10cm thick ice you would have to use a high power pulsed laser :-(


Maybe an ultrasonic sonar off a boat (ie fish finder) would be in the right direction (at least it would be waterproof)

I will have to look at the pdf file in more detail to se if any new info can be gleamed from it........thanks again.



Hi again!


I have a simple fishfinder so I'll experiment with that on the ice and see what the display might tell me about the signal. But I suspect it might not work well as the fishfinder is designed to be installed inside a hull and I think it would not display readings that are in direct contact with the transducer (as the ice would be).

waterproof transducers can be found here:



Geo-radar is another technology used which can not only tell the thickness but also the quality of the ice:



 It would be very fun if we could be able to cobble together a working ice check robot!

Gareth, which platform are you most familiar with, Arduino or something else?


Regards Carl  from Sweden

Gareth's picture

Arduino is my favorite platform.

I prefer (at present) to stick to "C" programming as "processing" can also be linked to the arduino.

The ice contact of the transducer  was also putting me off experimenting - however a buffer of water may help ie...

placing a hollow cylinder direct on ice and fill with water - dropping the probe a few cms (into water tube) above the ice.... only an idea.

I am sure that a device of this nature would be of interest to many safety services ...........

I will be more than interested in hearing how your sounder reacts - maybe it will give al least some direction to explore....

.... in the meantime i a happily watching our local lakes freezing over (rubs hand together)....

BTW - Very Cool links - I like the idea of a fish finder (maybe it could find the "GoldFish" in my lakes - we have big shoals of them) , the skidoo model looks the professional way to go :-) .......... though buying a minimum order or 1000 chinese probes  puts me off a bit.

amando96's picture

how about drilling?

 drill untill you dont have any vertical friction, and measure how much drill was inserted in the ice