Audi quattro has long been established as one of the top all-wheel drive systems on Earth, but now the brand with the four rings is reaching for the stars. Well, the moon, anyway.
The company is taking on a new challenge in developing the Audi lunar quattro as part of the Google Lunar XPRIZE competition open to engineers and business enterprises worldwide. Audi is joining with the Berlin-based engineering group Part-Time Scientists in the space travel competition that pays about $43 million Canadian in prize money.
That’s heavy-duty prize money but the teams (each of which has to be 90% privately financed) have to work for it — the competition requires that a team transport an automated vehicle 380,000 km to the moon, that said vehicle drive half a kilometre, and that it send back high-resolution images and video. It all has to happen by the end of 2017 and is expected to cost 24 million euros (about $37.5 million Canadian).
Part-Time Scientists have already won a couple milestone prizes, collectively worth about $1.8 million Canadian, for further development of the rover and its optical systems.
The vehicle currently weighs in at just 35 kg but Audi believes it can bring that down through design modifications (which might actually make it bigger) and the use of magnesium (replacing aluminum). Among the design features are a swivelling solar panel, a lithium-ion battery, two front mounted “stereo” cameras that capture 3D images, another camera that captures high-res panoramic images, and wheels that can be rotated 360 degrees.
Audi’s part in the partnership is to provide 10 technicians from various departments, especially in areas of all-wheel drive (quattro) and electric propulsion (e-tron). The company will also provide testing facilities, trials and quality assurance (the rover has to operate in temperature ranging from 120 degrees Celsius to -180).
There are currently 16 teams in the competition (which started off with 34 teams) and the Part-Time Scientists team has more than 70 members from Germany and Austria, with support from others all over the world (including computer programmer Jack Crenshaw, a former NASA employee who contributed to the now-familiar “figure-8” return trajectory and abort trajectories for lunar missions).
The team is consulted by Part-Time Scientists founder Robert Böhme, and features numerous research institute and high-tech company partners. In addition to Audi, partners include technology company Nvidia, the Technical University of Berlin, the Austrian Space Forum and the German Aerospace Centre.