Audi shoots for the moon with Lunar Quattro rover

Published: 14 January 2016

► Audi to help build Lunar Quattro rover
► Must reach the moon by end of 2017
► Aim is to win the Google Lunar Xprize 

Space, the final frontier… You remember how excited carmakers were about the potential for sales growth in China? Imagine how worked up they’d get if they could establish a foothold on entirely different planets! Well, here’s Audi boldly going, taking its first tentative steps into outer space with this Lunar Quattro!

Read about rocket-pack building Soichiro Honda in the CAR+ archive by clicking here

You’re not serious, are you…

Ok, ok, not entirely. The Lunar Quattro is very much real, but it’s a bit of an Audi side project, as the firm is assisting a group called the Part-Time Scientist, the only German team competing for the Google Lunar Xprize. 

Google has run a number of Xprize competitions – this one will be awarded to the first team to successfully transport an automated vehicle to the moon, and then have it broadcast high-definition video back to Earth.

So what’s Audi about the Lunar Quattro – aside from the branding and the name?

Ah-ha, you cynic. Funnily enough, the rover isn’t entirely Audi’s own work – rather it’s stepped in to help develop the Part-Time Scientists’ existing designs. Audi knows how to back a good horse, though, as it’s already picked up a couple of Xprize Milestone awards along the way. 

Despite its resemblance to a child’s hand cart, the Lunar Quattro is a highly sophisticated piece of kit, with stereo cameras on the rotating head up front to 3D scan the moondust ahead and in-wheel electric motors driving the four wheels, each of which can spin 360 degrees – and not just round their circumference.

Audi is offering assistance in the arena of all-wheel drive capability (hence Quattro) and electric motor drive systems, quality assurance (so it will actually work when it arrives at the end of its 236,121-mile rocket ride), and lightweight engineering. The Lunar Quattro currently weighs 35kg and is made from aluminium; Audi plans to use magnesium and upgrade the design, making it both lighter still and potentially bigger. 

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Any other on-board tech, and when does the Audi Lunar Quattro blast off?

The Lunar Quattro uses a solar panel to charge the lithium-ion battery that powers the wheels, while a third camera is included for material analysis and to capture extremely high-resolution panoramic images. Its top speed is just 2.2mph, due largely to the unpredictable terrain.

The project must launch by the end of 2017. The Part-Time Scientists estimate the trip will cost €24 million – around £18 million. The Google Lunar Xprize offers ‘approximately’ $30 million in prize money, which is around £20 million. We guess nobody is really in this thing for the cash…

By CJ Hubbard

Head of the Bauer Automotive Hub, road tester, organiser, extremely variable average wheel count