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Terranaut - earth’s equivalent of a lunar rover

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February 14, 2006

Terranaut - earth’s equivalent of a lunar rover

Terranaut - earth’s equivalent of a lunar rover

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February 15, 2006 Nissan has released more details of the large and imposing Terranaut which we previewed with design sketches a fortnight ago. The Terranaut is a mobile science laboratory, billed by Nissan as earth’s equivalent of a lunar rover, protecting its occupants from the environment so they can become part of it. Created by London-based Nissan Design Europe, the overriding theme behind the concept is one of function. Satellite information systems allow data access and transfer all over the planet. Terranaut has enough refrigerated storage space to house food, water and other provisions for a week in the field. Lightweight tents, sleeping bags built for extreme conditions and cooking facilities are ingenious built into storage compartments in the doors. This extensive article looks at the detail of the Terranaut’s design, and contrasts the Terranaut with Nissan’s other current show car destined for the Geneva Show – the PIVO. On one hand they couldn’t be more dissimilar. One is a diminutive yet innovative electric city car, the other a substantial four-wheel drive explorer. Although produced for two diametrically opposed habitats and physically at either extreme of car design boundaries, Pivo and Terranaut share some key elements: both, for example, have three seats and both feature rotating spherical ‘pods’ as a central part of their respective overall designs.

At first glance, Nissan’s two show cars for Geneva couldn’t be more dissimilar. One is a diminutive yet innovative electric city car, the other a substantial four-wheel drive explorer.

Yet the city-orientated Pivo and the go-anywhere Terranaut are linked by far more than the Nissan badges on their noses.

To the team of designers and planners who conceived it, both the metropolis and the most remote, unconquered areas of the globe are "fields for human adventures".

Although produced for two diametrically opposed habitats and physically at either extreme of car design boundaries, Pivo and Terranaut share some key elements: both, for example, have three seats and both feature rotating spherical ‘pods’ as a central part of their respective overall designs.

But, above all, both have been created to enhance mankind’s relationship with the world. The key idea for the planning and design team on both projects was: integration (in the environment, from the busy city, to the unexplored desert); seamless integration also in the daily life in terms of the optimised working space of Terranaut together with the ultra functional interior of Pivo. These extreme approaches are one way of exploring how to make the car interior a better place to be.

Crowded and polluted cities demand zero-emission vehicles that literally fit in to their surroundings. Pivo fulfils those requirements exactly thanks to its non-polluting electric power and its compact dimensions, which allow it to be threaded through the smallest gaps. And its remarkable rotating cabin – it swivels through a full 360 degrees – coupled with advanced drive-by-wire technology allows its user to drive in and out of parking slots without ever having to select reverse gear.

Terranaut, too, answers its design brief to the letter. Built for wild, often unfriendly environments, Terranaut has outstanding 4x4 capabilities to ensure it can go anywhere. Central to its role is the on-board laboratory housed in a rotating sphere to the rear of the vehicle where scientific workstations permit analysis of biological, geological and chemical samples in the field.

"Pivo and Terranaut embody everything Nissan is doing for the future. As well as showcasing many advanced technical solutions, both vehicles underline Nissan’s understanding of a changing world and the role the car will play in our lives in the years to come," said Shiro Nakamura, Senior Vice President Design, Nissan Motor Limited.

This approach at both ends of the cars line-up is exploring the whole diversity of consumer needs. In exploring these extremes, Nissan intends to better understand the lives of the people who buy its cars and that in turn will lead to better products in Nissan’s range.

TERRANAUT

Terranaut shows how cars of the future could interact with the world in which we live. As imposing as Pivo is small, Terranaut is a manned, mobile science laboratory – earth’s equivalent of a lunar rover.

"The Terranaut will protect its occupants from the extremes of the world’s environments and, on the other hand, allow you to be part of it." François Bancon, General Manager, Motor-Show, Exploratory & Advanced Product Planning, Nissan Motor Limited.

Measuring 4,965mm from stem to stern, the advanced four-wheel drive explorer stands 2,150mm tall and is 2,100mm wide. These impressive external dimensions provide Terranaut with the interior space needed to house its laboratory equipment and scientist.

A creation of London-based Nissan Design Europe, the overriding theme behind the concept is one of function. Project leader Felipe Roo Clefas, Assistant Chief Designer, NDE, says: "Terranaut has been designed for observation and communication in all four corners of the world."

Terranaut is very much a statement about how the 4x4 can help us discover more about our world.

Capable of being driven deep into the Outback, to the middle of the desert or to the frozen wastes of the tundra, Terranaut is an observation and communications centre as well as being a mobile science lab. Satellite information systems allow data access and transfer all over the planet.

Built to house three operators – a pilot, co-pilot and lab technician/scientist – Terranaut has enough refrigerated storage space to house food, water and other provisions for stays of upwards of a week out in the field. Lightweight tents, sleeping bags built for extreme conditions and simple cooking facilities are carried in storage compartments in the doors.

The overall exterior design conforms to the expectations of a rugged 4x4, with short overhangs front and rear and the ample ground clearance needed to traverse inhospitable terrain. Terranaut has the traditional face of a Nissan 4x4, with its bold ‘balanced angle strut’ grille flanked on either side by horizontal headlamps. The difference lies in the detail…

To accommodate the laboratory area within the cabin, the co-pilot’s side of the car has just one door, while the other side has a pair of swing doors and no central B-pillar. By hinging the doors at the front and rear respectively, ingress and egress is made easy: an important consideration when the occupants are likely to be wearing many layers of protective clothing.

With both doors open, virtually the entire side of the car becomes an entrance to the cabin while a step built in to the substantial sill folds down to ease access still further.

There’s no conventional door at the back of Terranaut, either. Instead, centrally placed in the rear is an integrated air lock drawer into which the pilot or co-pilot outside the vehicle can place samples for clinical analysis by the scientist left inside the cabin.

As well as providing excellent visibility out of the vehicle, the deep rear window also houses external displays and touch screens for data access by those outside the vehicle. Excellent all-round visibility is also afforded by the deep side and front windows, while much of the roof area above the two front seats is glazed, too. All the glass is highly reflective thus maintaining a controlled atmosphere within the cabin by reflecting external light sources, whether it be from the sun or glare from snow and ice.

Even the body paintwork takes into consideration the often hostile environments in which Terranaut is likely to find itself – taking its lead from the aircraft industry, the paint can withstand extremes of temperature. The off-white finish contrasts dramatically with the almost mirror-finish bronze glasshouse, the overall effect being reminiscent of a spacecraft.

Huge wheels are covered by tyres specially constructed for Terranaut by Goodyear. Puncture proof, they function as conventional road tyres when the vehicle is being driven on metalled roads but, by changing air pressure, transform themselves into chunky off-road tyres.

The exterior of Terranaut is dominated, however, by a glass dome over the rear portion of the roof and which marks the uppermost element of Terranaut’s science laboratory. As well as providing a window on the world for the occupants inside, the sphere doubles as an escape hatch should the ground beneath the vehicle give way for any reason.

Other features to be found on the roof are a circular housing for satellite positioning, transmitting and scanning equipment and a telescopic arm onto which a day/night view camera can be mounted. When fully extended this can transmit 360-degree ‘helicopter view’ images from around Terranaut to the vehicle itself and to expedition headquarters at all hours of the night and day.

Inside the vehicle, the spherical science laboratory dominates the entire cabin area behind the two front seats. A single revolving seat with an integrated computer keyboard is situated beneath the glass roof dome and gives the scientist complete 360-degree access to the various workstations found in Terranaut.

The laboratory also incorporates a hemispherical display in front of the revolving seat which acts as a computer screen and data display panel – created in collaboration with Elumens – and onto which can also be relayed images transmitted from the cameras attached to the vehicle. Images and data can be downloaded to both computer storage systems and to an on-board high definition printer.

Although designed as a mobile laboratory, NDE’s project team of six designers has ensured the vehicle provides a welcoming habitat for the three-man Terranaut team. While functional materials have been used extensively inside the cabin – the totally flat floor, for example, has an easy-to-clean rubberised covering – all surfaces with which the occupants are likely to come into contact feature soft-touch materials.

Touch pads used to open the doors electrically are covered with a tactile silicon finish while the seats, which all feature air vents in the base and backrests feature ‘breathing’ fabrics. Colours chosen mix practical laboratory greys with warm beige and brown shades to bring a human touch to what is essentially a scientific environment.

Reflecting the sorts of samples that might be brought into the laboratory for analysis, the design team have adopted the hexagon – the geometric shape of one of the seven crystal systems – as a styling feature. The light clusters, front and rear, are all hexagonal while the jewel-like lights themselves appear to be actual gemstones.

Raised hexagonal sections on the flooring provide extra grip inside the cabin, while even the two sides of the dashboard and the centre console between pilot and co-pilot adopt the six-sided theme.

Designer Felipe Roo Clefas says: "Terranaut is very much a statement about how the 4x4 can help us discover more about our world."

"At first glance it might appear that Pivo and Terranaut have little in common," says Carlos Tavares, "but the philosophy behind them both proves otherwise. For both Pivo and Terranaut mix advanced engineering with imagination. As a result both SHIFT_ access… and that’s something Nissan’s inspired designers and product planners will continue to do."

We would like to thank the following supplier companies: Seiren, Vimo, Textile Bounding, Alveo, Trêves, Guilford, Technicoat and BASF.

The PIVO examines the future potential of the electric vehicle in the city environment

It might be at the other end of the scale, but Pivo, which was first seen at the 2005 Tokyo Motor Show, examines the future potential of the electric vehicle in the city environment. Pivo is powered by a Nissan-developed high performance Compact Lithium-ion battery and Nissan’s own electric Super Motor.

Because the lithium-ion battery is flat it occupies much less space and is lighter than a conventional cylindrical cell. Further weight saving considerations mean Pivo uses two compact Super Motors – one on either axle – rather than having one motor within each wheel. Each Super Motor delivers power to two drive shafts, each of which can be controlled independently to permit efficient distribution of torque to all four wheels.

As a result, Nissan’s design team in Japan has been able to develop an extremely compact body to give Pivo the perfect footprint for the city. Although just 2,700mm from bumper to bumper, Pivo will seat three in comfort, with the driver placed centrally and ahead of the two passengers in the rear of the cabin. Thanks to its narrow width – just 1,600mm – it can be squeezed down busy streets and parked almost anywhere with ease.

But Pivo’s pièce de résistance lies in its cabin which, as its names implies, pivots through 360 degrees and means you’ll never have to reverse again: Pivo can be driven straight into a parking slot and, once the body has been swivelled around to face the opposite direction, driven straight out again.

It also means an end to reversing centimetre by centimetre when parallel parking between two obstacles: turning the cabin around to face the direction of travel means the driver doesn’t have to manoeuvre when looking over his shoulder or trying to judge distances in a mirror. Because the platform has a longitudinally symmetrical design the driver’s perception of the car’s extremities doesn’t change even when the cabin is rotated through 180 degrees.

The egg-shaped revolving body has other benefits. The tall, electrically-powered sliding doors, for example, make ingress and egress easy with little or no chance for bumped heads while ‘see-through’ pillars and Nissan’s Around View Monitor mean that blind spots are all but eliminated.

Cameras mounted on the outside of each A-pillar relay an accurate picture of the surroundings to screens within the pillars turning them into virtual windows. More cameras mounted at both ends and on both sides of the car allows the Around View Monitor to generate a 360-degree view of the car’s surroundings on a dashboard monitor.

An innovative image processing technique converts these images into a single bird’s-eye view.

The revolving body has been made possible only by wholesale adoption of Nissan’s multiple drive-by-wire technologies. Embracing steer-by-wire, brake-by-wire and shift-by-wire there are no mechanical linkages between body and chassis. Instead all the car’s functions are operated by electronic signals at the same time as providing more space inside the cabin. And, as a further bonus, drive-by-wire systems mean less weight and fewer mechanical parts.

More advanced electronic systems look after the driver’s information needs. A dash-mounted Infrared (IR) Commander allows the driver to operate navigation and audio systems without having to take an eye off the road ahead or to fumble for fiddly controls.

Using an infrared camera and Nissan’s ‘Magic 4’ concept, all the driver needs to do is point fingers at the IR Commander to choose from any one of four items on the menu: item three requires three fingers, and so on. Want the music louder? Just motion upwards with your hand.

Vital information is projected onto the windscreen to prevent the driver from having to take his eyes off the road to check instrument readings, while Pivo’s Horizontal Display runs additional information along the bottom of the screen rather like movie subtitles. Advanced telematics mean the ‘ticker-tape’ display can pick up live signals broadcasted from nearby buildings.

All these state-of-the-art functions are housed in a futuristic yet friendly design. The headlamps, or ‘eyes’, on the front of the spherical cabin give Pivo a sociable face while recesses at the front and rear – or should that be front and front – of the platform are covered in soft materials to provide somewhere to sit when the car is parked.

"Pivo is not a far fetched flight of fancy but a serious look at what the city car of the future could look like and, more importantly, how it could interact with its environment," said Masato Inoue, Chief Designer, Nissan Motor Limited.

About the Author
Mike Hanlon After Editing or Managing over 50 print publications primarily in the role of a Magazine Doctor, Mike embraced the internet full-time in 1995 and became a "start-up all-rounder" – quite a few start-ups later, he founded Gizmag in 2002. Now he can write again.   All articles by Mike Hanlon
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