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December 2, 2021

Nissan unveils ‘lunar rover prototype’

Intriguing example of automotive-aerospace crossover on 4WD tech, jointly developed with Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

By David Leggett

Nissan has unveiled a lunar rover prototype jointly developed with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

The JAXA Space Exploration Innovation Hub Center is conducting research on lunar rovers — a key technology for space exploration. Nissan has been working with JAXA on driving controllability of the rovers since January 2020.

Nissan’s research applies the motor control technology it has developed through its production of mass-market electric vehicles such as the LEAF as well as the e-4ORCE all-wheel control technology featured on the all-new Ariya electric crossover. In particular, it is e-4ORCE that is boosting the lunar rover’s performance over tricky terrain, the company says.

Nissan’s e-4ORCE technology precisely controls all four wheels independently, providing the driver with confidence in various conditions, Nissan says.

In its joint research with JAXA, Nissan is evolving e-4ORCE technology to improve its performance in sandy terrain and other harsh conditions. When cars are driven in sand their wheels frequently spin and dig in, impeding progress. A high level of driving skill is required to avoid getting stuck. To meet this need, Nissan has developed driving-force controls that minimize the amount of wheel spin in accordance with surface conditions.

Through the joint research, Nissan aims to contribute to the technological evolution of automotive technology and space exploration technology by sharing knowhow gained from test-vehicle development and combining it with JAXA’s knowledge of rover research.

JAXA Director of the Space Exploration Innovation Hub Center, Ikkoh Funaki describes the research: “JAXA aims to apply the research results to future space exploration. We are collaborating with companies, universities and research institutes on projects that are feasible and have potential for commercialization and innovation. By conducting research with Nissan, which has expertise in electrified technologies, we hope to apply our findings to the development of higher-performance lunar rovers.”

Toshiyuki Nakajima, general manager of the Advanced Vehicle Engineering Department in charge of e-4ORCE control development at Nissan, says: “The uses of automobiles and driving situations are wide-ranging. We aim for the ultimate driving performance through our research and development, and believe the knowhow gained from this joint research with JAXA will lead to innovations in our vehicles that will bring benefits to customers.

e-4ORCE basics

The Nissan Ariya e-4ORCE model is equipped with front and rear electric motors. The torque of each motor can be individually controlled to provide traction during acceleration. When decelerating, the amount of regeneration is individually adjusted for the front and rear motors. When braking, e-4ORCE minimizes dive and body shake.

Around corners, the torque of the front and rear motors and the braking performance of the four wheels are managed to ensure smooth and comfortable handling. These controls enable drivers of all skill levels to confidently navigate various road conditions, including rain and snow.

The Nissan Ariya e-4ORCE model is scheduled to start sales in Japan in the summer of 2022.

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