The Venturi Antarctica, a prototype electric vehicle designed to tackle the harsh climes of Antarctica recently completed its first test drive in the Southern Alps of Europe. Manufactured by Venturi Automobiles, the joystick-controlled prototype seats five and can reach a top speed of 25 km/h (15 mph) on snow tracks and 45 km/h (27 mph) on wheels. When fully developed, the electric vehicle will allow scientists to drive to research sites without any risk of contaminating the samples to be collected.

Contamination is a huge concern, as even one additional molecule can threaten the integrity of a sample. Scientists typically cover the last 8 or 10 km (5 or 6 mi) to a research site by foot or on skis. This is where the the Venturi Antartica will help, say its engineers, by conveying them to the sample site risk-free.

"They need a vehicle that doesn't contaminate the soil and air – the area of study must be clean of human activities," Franck Baldet, a testing engineer with Venturi Automobiles tells Gizmag. "It's crucial to have the most virgin environment to be deeply studied."

Measuring 3 m long, 2.3 m wide and 1.8 m tall (9.8 x 7.5 x 5.9 ft), the prototype uses a 23 kWh battery, two electric motors and an eight-wheel drive. Expert drivers tested its maneuverability in the Southern Alps on slopes with inclines up to 40 percent in very low temperatures and a range of snow conditions from tough to very icy. Dynamic maneuvers such as on the spot 360--degree rotation, climbing, time response to command input and hitting the panic brakes, were tested.

The goal was to check how intuitively the vehicle responded to joystick controls, in order to allow future untrained drivers and scientific personnel to easily operate the Venturi Antartica without specific training.

"We can affirm that it is the easiest vehicle to drive with a joystick," says Baldet. "We performed autonomy driving sessions and successfully reached 20 km (12 mi) at a constant 20 km/h (12 mph) speed, as specified by the scientists needs and the French Polar Institute (IPEV)."

The engineers also evaluated the vehicle's ability to charge at various low temperatures. While the Venturi Antarctica can currently be driven in sub-zero temperatures and on different types of snow, the challenge is to get it to work at -40° C (-40° F) before it can be sent to Antarctica. Ongoing work includes finding light materials that are tolerant to extreme weather and improving the battery's efficiency while still limiting its weight.

"The Venturi Antarctica has a good behavior in the cold," Baldet tells us. "Sending it to the white continent will depend on the results we have with batteries' testing sessions in extreme cold conditions."

With a different type of chassis, the prototype could also be adapted for different applications, such as using it for transporting people and equipment in ski resorts.

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