Not all automakers are content to keep their wheels on the ground these days. First, you have Lexus showing off its new magnetic levitation hoverboard. Now, Audi says it plans to lift-off on a mission to the moon in 2017.
Of course, Audi will not be sending an actual vehicle rocketing into space. It’s partnering up with a group of German engineers dubbed the Part-Time Scientists to plant a robot, the Audi lunar quattro, on the moon’s surface. The effort is part of the Google Lunar XPRIZE competition to transport an unmanned rover to the moon. And the landing spot? Why, the old landing site of Apollo 17, NASA’s last manned mission to the moon.
Audi will provide some of its quattro all-wheel drive technology to the effort, plus help the team out with lightweight construction, electric mobility and piloted driving.
“The concept of a privately financed mission to the moon is fascinating,” says Luca de Meo, Audi Board Member for Sales and Marketing. “And innovative ideas need supporters that promote them. We want to send a signal with our involvement with the Part-Time Scientists and also motivate other partners to contribute their know-how.”
Prof. Dr. Ulrich Hackenberg, Audi Board Member for Technical Development, said: “We are pleased to support the project with our know-how in lightweight technology, electronics and robotics.”
The $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE is a competition to challenge and inspire engineers and entrepreneurs from around the world to develop low-cost methods of robotic space exploration. To win the Google Lunar XPRIZE, a privately funded team must successfully place a robot on the moon’s surface that explores at least 500 meters and transmits high-definition video and images back to Earth.
The Audi lunar quattro should launch into space in 2017 on board a launching rocket and will travel more than 380,000 kilometers to the moon. The trip will take about five days.
The Part-Time Scientists developed their lunar vehicle, which is largely made of aluminum, during various rounds of testing in the Austrian Alps and Tenerife. An adjustable solar panel captures sunlight and directs it to a lithium-ion battery which feeds four electric wheel hub motors. A head at the front of the vehicle carries two stereoscopic cameras as well as a scientific camera that examines materials. The theoretical maximum speed is 3.6 km/h– but more important on the rugged surface of the moon are the vehicle’s off-road capabilities and ability for safe orientation.
“With Audi we have acquired a strong partner that will bring us a big step forward with its technological and mobility capabilities,” said Robert Böhme, founder and head of the Part-Time Scientists. “We look forward to future interaction and a fruitful partnership.”
The Google Lunar XPRIZE, which started off with more than 25 teams, is currently in its final round. Participants in the competition, in addition to Part-Time Scientists, include 15 teams from around the world including Brazil, Canada, Chile, Hungary, Japan, Israel, Italy, Malaysia and the United States.