The coolest new vehicle at this week's Detroit Auto Show is literally out of this world.
German luxury automaker Audi is showing off a fully-working prototype of its Audi Lunar Quattro, a rover designed in partnership with the Part Time Scientists, a group of engineers and physicists who, as the name implies, have been doing a lot of this work in their spare time. The team is one of 30 competing in Google's $30 million Lunar XPRIZE, a challenge that aims to place a vehicle on the moon, and have it explore at least 500 feet and send back photos to Earth.
The rover, created almost entirely from 3-D printed aluminum and titanium, will feature an HD camera, embedded solar array, and four-wheeled electric drive system. The Part Time Scientists are thinking in more ambitious terms beyond the XPRIZE with the addition of a 3-D printer. The idea is to take advantage of a lunar soil composed of aluminum, titanium, and magnesium to prove that it's possible to build parts using alien materials. Such a breakthrough could come in handy for missions further away from home.
"We need the moon as a springboard for a trip to Mars," Austrian Jürgen Brandner explains on the team's site. "That’s why one of the things we’re sending up is a 3-D printer. Even if all it prints is a little cube, we want to demonstrate that it can work,” he explains. “In the future, components will have to be built in the moon’s orbit. Sending up material from Earth on a rocket won’t work. Overcoming gravity takes too much energy."
Over the next few months, the ALQ-01 prototype will undergo upgrades and rigorous testing, including vacuum and radiation test chambers. "There’s a long road ahead of this unit and it all starts today," the team announced on the official blog.
If all goes according to plan, the four linked rings of the Audi logo will be kicking up moon dust in 2017. Those of us back on Earth will have a front-row seat thanks to a planned live broadcast on the Discovery Channel.
"More than half the world's population has never had the opportunity to experience a live broadcast from the moon," XPRIZE vice chairman and president Robert K. Weiss said in 2014. "Partnering with Discovery Channel and Science Channel will allow us to engage the public around this milestone event, creating an 'Apollo Moment' for the next generation."