Arctic Drifting

Designed by Studio Les Bêtes, an enormous inflatable ball for future explorers. The inflatable research lab, called the Arctic Drifter, would be built out of Hypalon air-bags (a material similar to that used in rugged inflatable boats) and would quite literally roll across the arctic, ignoring water, ice, and crevasses in the process.

Drifting on the Wind
The Arctic Drifter is designed to travel on the prevailing winds above the Arctic Circle, rolling across the landscape gathering images. When fully inflated, the Drifter presents a 15 m diameter profile, cushioned by Hypalon air-bags (a similar material is used for heavy-duty inflatable boats). Because of its size and buoyancy it is able to cover almost any flat terrain, including ice, water and small crevasses. It is able to travel in extreme wind speeds and weather conditions that would ground most travellers.

With the air-bags mostly deflated, however, the Drifter presents a much smaller dome-shaped profile, giving it stability. The inner roll-cage ensures that the crew capsule is able to remain upright. To exit the capsule, the crew deflates a section of the air-bags completely and detaches them.

Sensor Network
Key to our proposal is a new way of seeing the Arctic landscape. Scale an the Arctic can be difficult to grasp from a traditional photograph, ranging from the vastness of the terrain in the far background to incredible delicate detail in the foreground, with very little middle ground for the eye to fix upon.

Utilizing a network of multi-band sensors called the FlyEye system, the Arctic Drifter is able to collect ultra-high-resolution spherical projections by stitching together smaller images in real time. Because the system is working with the combined resolution of all the sensors, the individual devices need not be of the highest resolution, increasing reliability and allowing additional sensors to cover the UV and the IR spectrum.

The images from the sensor network can be immediately projected on the interior surface of the sphere, allowing the crew the experience of being immersed in all weather conditions, with the additional augmentation of the non-visual light spectra. We believe that this system would allow the crew to capture a richer experience of the Arctic than ever before.

The crew capsule is mounted inside a three-axis gymbal, and the heavy mechanical systems and batteries are mounted below the center of gravity, causing it to float upright in any orientation. The gymbal system is equipped with two low-speed high-torque electric motors, intended for repositioning the on-site or for short-distance travel. During wind-powered travel, the motors are used for steering control, allowing the Drifter to “tack” away from the wind.

Strategies for Living
Because of the extremes of daylight above the Arctic Circle, the problem for the crew is most often either too much light, making sleep difficult, or too little, causing depression and health problems. Full-spectrum LED fixtures in the crew capsule regulate the crew’s biological clocks, while the panoramic projections inside the crew capsule provides an experience of being outside even in the worst conditions. Power is supplied by batteries in the bottom of the crew capsule. The batteries are recharged by the generators mounted in the gymbal rings while the Arctic Drifter is travelling with the wind. The battery cells provide power for the electronic, environmental and lighting systems as well as the electric motors and pumps for the air-bags.

Though the Arctic Drifter is equipped with a self-contained composting toilet, it does not include a greywater treatment system, as the typical cycle for a non-chemical greywater processor is much longer than the maximum specified operating cycle. We envision instead that the Drifter would be part of a larger base-camp system, discharging cached greywater to central treatment facilities at the end of a mission cycle.

In milder conditions where the Drifter is able to remain partly inflated, several units could be clustered together to share facilities for longer-term operation. As winds pick up, the cluster would move together towards a new base camp location.

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