When it comes to implementing 3D printing in the manufacturing of automotive vehicles, German automobile company Audi has demonstrating their own use of the technology on a regular basis. Late last year, Audi had announced that their future use of metal-based 3D printing is imminent, and had even produced a fully 3D printed functional replica of the 1936 Auto Union Type C Grand Prix racer. Now, Audi is taking these efforts from planet Earth into outer space, collaborating with and sponsoring the Berlin-based team from Part Time Scientist to create the 3D printed Audi Lunar Quattro moon rover.
The project is one of the few competing for the Google Lunar XPRIZE, a $30 million prize that will go towards sending a privately funded robot to the moon. The partnering team has utilized Audi’s metal 3D printing process to create the Lunar Quattro out of aluminum and titanium, using a CNC method in order to route wiring through the printed components. And, although the $30 million would be a nice consolation prize, the true goal of Part Time Scientist, according to their CEO Robert Böhme, is to create a moon rover capable of reaching the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) that was dropped onto the surface by NASA over 40 years ago.
The team is genuinely curious about how the LRV has held up in the extreme envrionment of the moon overtime, but NASA landing restrictions would force the moon rover to be placed 2.3 kilometers from the LRV’s location. Beyond creating the 3D printed Lunar Quattro moon rover, the team is also focused on creating a 3D printer that is actually able to 3D print with lunar soil, which is jam-packed with aluminum, titanium, and magnesium. The Audi and Part Time Scientist team hopes to use the moon’s rich terrain to 3D print parts for other moon-based devices.
“That’s why we want to focus so much on science, we want to show that there is the value,” Böhme says. “There is value that you can take away from being on the surface of the Moon. It’s important to show what could be done.”
The functional prototype will be on display in the Audi booth at this week’s Detroit Auto Show, and will be whizzing around the showroom floor (you can watch it do so in the video clip below). Together, Audi and Part Time Scientist seem to have a promising project on their hands, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Lunar Quattro keeping the LRV company anytime soon. 3D printing tech seems to have put the German-based team on pace with the space exploration curve, so much so that they’re already preparing to send a 3D printed rover (and even a 3D printer itself!) to thrive upon the moon’s plentiful terrain.