Few questions about the new concept ice vehicle

Published on 06.11.2008 - Transantarctic Expedition

A few weeks ago, we placed details online about the Antarctic expeditions scheduled to take place during the forthcoming season. Some of the interesting novelties include a futuristic vehicle designed to make it easier to travel over the ice. There has been plenty of feedback to the news, but very few questions delving any deeper...

The Moon-Regan expedition has set itself the goal of crossing the Antarctic from Berkner Island to the American base at McMurdo, via the South Pole. The project is designed to draw the attention of the world to the fact that the fate of the frozen continent will have an effect on the environment of the entire planet. The whole adventure is totally motorised, with two heavy vehicles following in the tracks of a lighter one called a CIV, or concept ice vehicle, which has been designed by the British sports car manufacturer, Lotus.

As you would expect, Lotus has been busy widely publicising this vehicle in the media and on the Web. The CIV itself consists of a cab that is occupied by a single driver and attached to a steel cross-member that looks a little like the cross-arms of a racing trimaran. The whole unit (which looks like a sort of large buggy) rests on three skis and is fitted with a propeller at the rear in the same way as an ultralight aircraft. Running on bio-fuel (E85 bio-ethanol), the CIV can reach a top speed of 130 km/h. The vehicle is also fitted with what might be called a safety strut located beneath the cockpit (which helps to absorb any bumps and shocks that the unpredictable terrain may throw up), as well as a radar system (Ice Penetrating Radar, IPR), which is capable of detecting any crevasses that may appear in the CIV's path. As a finishing touch, the design of the prototype is the work of Kieron Bradley, the former formula 1 chassis designer, who specialises in manufacturing individual buggies. He also built the buggies used by Brian Cunningham for his IceKites expedition in 2002-2003. The total weight of the vehicle is approximately 350 kg.

The whole motorised expedition is hoping that this new technology may come to be of some value in moving teams of scientists around the Antarctic polar icecap.

Dozens of articles on the Web have been dedicated to this revolutionary buggy, which looks more like a gadget from a James Bond film than what some people might consider a more conventional polar vehicle. Unfortunately, not many probing questions have been asked about it – especially about the real use that the CIV may be for scientific expeditions (these days we are beyond the time when major Antarctic expeditions just went from one point to another in the quest for new discoveries, as was especially the case when the Pole of Inaccessibility was reached for the first time on 14th December 1958 by a Soviet expedition).

Nor have any questions been raised about the environmental impact that the vehicle will have on the route the expedition will be taking. News about the adventure is focused mainly on biofuel. "If biofuel can be used successfully on an extreme terrain such as the Antarctic icecap, then why not use it for going to the supermarket?" To which one online surfer answered with waspish accuracy, " What good will it be doing to the supermarket if the shelves are going to be empty because producing biofuel will mean sacrificing huge tracts of farming land...?"

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