3D-Printed Rover Takes to the Wastelands


Typically, a story involving two non-engineering types tackling an unforgiving landscape in a vehicle inspired by technology with the goal of spreading a worthwhile message … ends up being the plot of a sci-fi horror flick.

However, it appears Liesbeth and Edwin ter Velde’s trip around Antarctica in their Solar Voyager could be a major success, for more reasons than one.

Along with all the unique dynamics that accompany its climate, Antarctica also stands out as possibly the only place on the planet where it’s illegal to litter or leave any garbage behind. Any visitors must take their trash with them.

This played a part in the Dutch couple deciding to select a 3,000-mile, roadless stretch on the continent to help reinforce their feelings about eliminating, or at least reducing, plastic waste. Complementing their goal is the fact that their journey is being made in a 52-foot-long, solar-powered snow rover partially 3D-printed from waste plastic.

The couple’s inspiration began with Edwin’s use of plastic, from their own trash, and a commercial 3D printer. From this, he was able to create a lightweight, honeycomb-shaped block he dubbed the HexCore.

From there, he partnered with material makers DuFor and Innofil3D to create 4,000 of these cores in building the hull of what would become the Solar Voyager.

Three years and 40 printers later, the fully functional Solar Voyager is comprised of 15% upcycled plastic. In total it weighs nearly 3,300 pounds with 4-foot-tall rubber tires and an undercarriage comprised of Twaron — a material so strong it’s typically reserved for armored cars and bulletproof vests.

Nearly all of the rover’s power, which flows from 10 solar panels producing 3,500 watts of energy, is used to propel the vehicle at a mind-blowing 5 mph. This means two things.

First, that 3,000-mile journey that began in December will take about 25 days, as the rover is able to run 24 hours a day — thanks to the sun never setting between late October and late February in Antarctica.

Second, there’s not enough power left for creature comforts like a heater. So, the couple depends on a couple of key technologies to battle the subzero temps. Infrared windows made of self-heating polycarbonate keep the windows from freezing over, and six steel solar vacuum tubes are used to melt snow and boil water.

The couple’s journey will end at the geographic South Pole in mid-January.

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