Canadian Space Agency contractor puts rovers to work on Earth
These space-age tools are being used for firefighting and defence, among other applications
Move over, Tang and memory foam. The latest application of space technology on Earth is a rover that can be adapted for use in industries ranging from from firefighting to agriculture.
Ontario Drive and Gear (ODG) began working with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) in 2008, when it was asked to help in the design of a lunar exploration rover.
"Every year since then, we've been asked to take our concepts and develop them even further," says Peter Visscher, ODG's chief technology officer.
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Despite a variety of prototypes having been developed by ODG with other partners over the years, Canada has yet to actually put a rover on the moon. However, ODG has applied what it's learned from creating space-age innovations to the creation of a remote-controlled terrestrial rover.
The ARGO J5 began to take shape in 2013, when a defence contractor contacted ODG after seeing its fourth-generation lunar rover.
"They saw the rover and said 'that's a really cool little vehicle, could you make us a terrestrial version of this?" Visscher says. "They wanted something that was faster, more capable and obviously less expensive than a space rover."
As a defence vehicle, the J5 serves as a soldier assist platform.
"It can help soldiers carry supplies. Instead of carrying soldiers into a risky environment, where possible, we can send these vehicles in," says Visscher.
From agriculture to airport security
But its applications aren't limited to defence. The vehicle can basically be used anywhere where having human workers present would be dangerous or inconvenient.
On the Caribbean island of Martinique, the rover is being used for agriculture. Spraying banana crops with pesticide and fungicide using helicopter has been banned on the island due to safety issues. Using a J5 for spraying ensures that no humans get close to dangerous machinery or chemicals.
An adapted version of the rover, dubbed the FireDog, is able to unload huge quantities of foam or water at a close range, putting out fires and limiting the risk to firefighters.
Quebec City's Jean Lesage International Airport uses a version of the ODG rover to remove suspicious packages from the airport's baggage-handling areas.
ODG hasn't given up its part in the space race, however. It recently delivered two new lunar rover prototypes to the CSA.
The two rovers, the Lunar Rover Drivetrain Prototype and the Small Planetary Rover Platform, have already undergone rigorous testing.
It's still unknown when, one of these rovers will actually end up on the moon.
"That's the million-dollar question," says Visscher.