The continent of Antarctica has been crossed by land twice, and both expeditions took months to do so. What if you wanted to cross the coldest continent on the planet in as little time as possible, like most rational people? For starters, you’d need some kind of high-speed, utterly reliable ice transport. Enter the BIV, short for Bio-inspired Ice Vehicle, a propeller driven sled built specifically for the Moon Regan Transantarctic Expedition. The full name of the vehicle is the “Winston Wong Bio Inspired Ice Vehicle”, in recognition of the expedition’s primary benefactor, who also generously supports the Imperial College London, the expedition’s science partner. The concept vehicle was built by Lotus, although their name is strangely absent from the finished product.
The BIV is powered by a Rotax 914 engine, although the prototype in the picture and video actually shows a supercharged BMW R1150 engine. The Rotax was chosen because of its superior performance in extremely low temperatures and at high altitudes, and it’s powered by bio fuel. Strangely enough, the expedition’s website doesn’t say what kind of bio fuel it is, but it’s safe to assume that bio diesel isn’t the best choice for temps of -31F (the south pole temperature as I write this).
To keep things simple and reliable, the BIV has as few moving parts as possible, and the expedition carries enough spares to fix anything in the field. The variable pitch propeller provides thrust, while the front runner gives the driver steering ability (although I wouldn’t want to try the BIV on a skidpad). Each ski is independently sprung for a (relatively) smooth ride, and braking on ice is accomplished via a series of ice spikes. I’m sure stopping distances are quite good once the tungsten carbide spikes begin to dig in.
The BIV weighs some 1,540 pounds, not including the single pilot. Top speed on smooth ice is 84 miles per hour, which is probably a lot faster than any sane individual would want to drive in Antarctica; it’s not like you’ve got a lot of trauma center choices nearby if you happen to bin the thing. For now, the BIV is a one-of-a-kind vehicle, but its success or failure in the Moon Regan Transantarctic Expedition may prove the viability of the concept. It certainly does look like an entertaining way to spend a winter’s afternoon on a mountain.