TU/e students build autonomous solar vehicle for South Pole climate research

Students from Eindhoven University of Technology will develop an autonomous solar vehicle that can conduct unmanned climate research at the South Pole. The ‘Antarctic Rover’ is made by a team of 17 students. The first driving prototype should be ready next year.

The Team Polar vehicle is powered by built-in solar panels and must be able to operate fully autonomously at the South Pole. It must be able to drive from point A to B without human input and it must be able to withstand the extreme weather conditions at the South Pole, without human intervention.

The idea behind the solar car is that research at the South Pole should be more sustainable. Conducting research on the continent is currently expensive, because staffed research stations are required and fuel must be supplied by air, among other things. The solar vehicle is being developed so that less human presence is needed for research, and can be compared to a Mars rover in that regard.

The rover will be equipped with solar panels that operate at the South Pole, where the sun’s intensity is extremely low, and a battery that works in low temperatures, something that regular batteries struggle with. In addition, it is not easy to carry out waypoint missions where the vehicle moves from point A to B in the ‘white landscape’ where ‘reference points are missing’, explains team manager Ewout Hulscher.

What the rover will eventually look like depends on the challenges that play out at the South Pole. Two members of the team will travel to the South Pole on December 28 to collect data for the first design. The first working prototype should be ready in 2022. The team will be divided into a group that focuses on the electrical domain, a team on the mechanical domain and one on the computer of the rover.

A computer sketch of what the rover might look like. Image: Team Polar.