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Antarctic Lightweight Concept Vehicle Unveiled at UK Royal College of Art Show

  • Friday, 1st July 2005
  • Reading time: about 5 minutes

An innovative concept for an Antarctic vehicle was unveiled this week at the Royal College of Art’s final year show.

Working closely with experts from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), award-winning designer James Moon has come up with a lightweight, compact eco-friendly vehicle for use in one of the Earth’s most extreme environments.

The vehicle, called “Ninety Degrees South”, uses novel technology to keep drivers safe, warm and protected from the high levels UV exposure that occur under the Antarctic ozone hole. Designed to fit into the small Twin Otter aircraft that BAS use for working in remote deep field locations, Moon’s two-person vehicle has a combination of tracks and wheels allow it to operate anywhere on the continent over hard ground, snow or ice surfaces. The designer believes the versatility of his concept vehicle has commercial potential.

Commenting on the project Moon says that “the challenge was to design an environmentally-friendly vehicle specifically for Antarctica that could be used also in other cold regions. I’m particularly interested in overcoming the dangers of travelling across crevassed areas of ice. Unknown terrain limits the speed of any journey over the ice – the faster you can detect crevasses the quicker you can travel. I’m using unmanned pathfinder technology which travels on a GPS controlled route ahead of the main unit. The pathfinder is secured by a 30m umbilical cord, and uses ground-penetrating radar to assess risk. I believe this technology serves as a prototype for future, entirely automated, expeditions in the Antarctic and on other planets.”

Working from a prototype which is approximately a quarter of the eventual model, he has produced specifications for the final model which will measure 4204mm in length, 2106mm in Width (body only), be 1910mm high and have a target weight of under 1000kg.

The vehicle will be powered by a 4cyl 1.6 diesel engine combined with hydrostatic drive. Power is fed via high-pressure hoses to four individual motors, to both the front wheels and rear tracks. The steering will be a combined “4 wheel steering” system with the tracks pivoting on a high-level ball joint, controlled by opposing hydraulic rams. The front wheels have conventional rack and pinion arrangement with hydraulic assistance. The front suspension is a solid axle with torsion damping and balloon tyres and for the rear, snowmobile style system of parallel arms with torsion springs.

Speaking to James Moon earlier this week it is clear that he wants to introduce composite materials wherever possible to keep the weight down. Considerations are for extensive use of GRFP panels for all the bodywork with foam insulation on the interiors, although he did mention possibilities of introducing carbon fibre for the front suspension. The innovative wheels and tyres would be mix of varying material properties – Light and rigid for the hubs and spokes, controlled flexibility for the suspension and outer “”cage”” on which the tyre fits, so as to provide the maximum ground contact area and achieve a low specific ground pressure.

Moon has designed the body around a simple aluminium chassis with use of aramid, carbon and GRP being introduced wherever possible and where costs allow. Moon has a target price of around 60,000 GBP per vehicle all inclusive of mechanical parts and materials and anticipates a relatively low production for the vehicle.

David Blake, British Antarctic Survey Head of Technology & Engineering said that “the large tracked vehicles (Snocats) and snowmobiles we use have been developed over several years and work reliably in the extreme Antarctic environment, supporting our field and base operations. James Moon’s concept is very novel and a vehicle built to his design could enable new areas of activity to be undertaken in Antarctica, including ground based deep field surveys. I am sure that should the vehicle be developed, it could also be used as a personnel carrier in Arctic regions. James’s vehicle is innovative and challenging and I am delighted at his enthusiasm and drive in developing his concept vehicle.”

James Moon is no stranger to awards and innovations. He is a graduating student from RCA’s Vehicle Design MA class of 2005, having previously attained a BA (hons) in Transport Design from The University of Huddersfield. He has worked as a designer for Ford Europe, and whilst at the RCA has also completed an internship in the vehicle design studio of Design a Storz in Austria. Over the past two years James has won a number of awards for his work, which have included:
The Motor Centenary Bursary Award 2005, awarded by The Worshipful Company of Coachmakers and Coach Harness Makers of London,
The McLaren “styling concept” design contest October 2004
The RCA/Fiat Pixel awards “Best interface” April 2004

James Moon’s ‘Ninety Degrees South’ goes on show to the public in the Vehicle Design section of The Show: Two at the Royal College of Art, Kensington Gore, London SW7 2EU until 3 July.

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