TECHNOLOGY

Audi Moon Rover.

Audi Moon Rover.

Audi has already conquered roads with quattro®. Now our goal is even loftier—the moon.

Audi quattro® takes on the moon.

By: Tim Shin
Photo: AUDI AG

We constantly experiment with all aspects of mobility, and now we’ve set our sights higher: Audi is reaching for the moon.

Audi AG recently announced that we are providing support to a team that entered Google’s Lunar XPRIZE competition. To win the competition, a team must successfully place a robot on the moon, move it at least 500 meters (1,640 feet) across the lunar surface and transmit high-definition video and images back to Earth. The prize is $30 million and, of course, the bragging rights that go along with achieving such a milestone.

German-based organization Part-Time Scientists, the team benefiting from Audi support, consists of dozens of scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs from several countries. Headquartered in Berlin, the team is funded by donations from individuals and also receives monetary and technical support from key sponsors.

Part-Time Scientists initiated the construction of its lunar vehicle and tested it in locations such as the Austrian Alps and the Canary Island of Tenerife. The rover is powered by a solar panel that stores energy in a lithium-ion battery, which powers four electric wheel-hub motors. Two stereoscopic cameras as well as a scientific camera help guide the rover and can examine elements it’s likely to come across on the lunar surface.

Audi is taking the development of the lunar vehicle even further, contributing its expertise in design, drivetrain technologies, piloted driving, and rigorous testing and quality assurance techniques.

Jorge Diez, a designer at Audi Concept Design studio in Munich, highlighted the differences and challenges between designing an automobile and designing a lunar vehicle: “Because of conditions on the moon, we must intensively rethink every design detail, even the smallest of details. It is not simply elegance that counts here but primarily the effectiveness of the rover. The design must serve the purpose of driving on the moon, but it must also express the familiar aesthetics that are expected of an Audi.”

Indeed, with temperatures fluctuating as much as 300°C (572°F) at the proposed landing site and driving in conditions that include the powderlike sand on the lunar surface, form must follow function in the lunar rover design.

Diez points out the importance of using advanced, lightweight materials—a characteristic found in many Audi vehicles. Audi expertise with ASF® aluminum construction and ultra® lightweight technology is instrumental in the construction of the lunar rover, which features high-strength aluminum and magnesium, and contributes to a body that weighs only 35 kilograms (approximately 77 pounds). When transporting payloads to the moon can cost up to $1.2 million per kilogram ($545K per lb), it’s easy to understand why our historic obsession with lightweight materials is an asset.

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Of course, the legendary capabilities of the quattro® all-wheel drive system are vital to the rover and its official name: the Audi lunar quattro®. Using four wheel-hub motors, the system is actually an e-quattro, powered with e-tron® propulsion technology with a top speed of around 3.6 kph (2.2 mph).

Since the Audi lunar quattro® will be an unmanned vehicle, the benefits of Audi autonomous driving technologies are clear. Audi received the first autonomous driving permit in California and, with an unmanned Audi RS 7, broke the autonomous speed record, traveling at 150 mph on the Hockenheim track in Germany. Although the rover won’t be required to achieve anything near that speed, Audi autonomous technology will be key in helping the rover find its way and avoid certain obstacles.

The lunar vehicle that will carry the Audi lunar quattro® should launch into space in 2017. The trip from the Earth to the moon is over 237,000 miles and is expected to take about five days. The landing point will be somewhere north of the moon’s equator, near the 1972 landing site of Apollo 17, the last manned mission to the moon.

There is something poignant about landing near the last place where humans walked, and drove, on the moon. It would be exciting to watch nimble 21st century Audi technology pass by—while remaining the NASA-recommended distances from—the remnants of the old lunar rover from the ’70s.

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