With no time on its hands for promotional appearances at glitzy European autoshows, one of America's most advanced electric vehicles has been busy being put through its paces on the torturous terrain found at Black Point Lava Flow in Arizona. The Lunar Electric Rover (LER) has spent the last couple weeks wandering about this wasteland simulating a search for lost crew members in a trial that's putting the modern plug-in electric car architecture to the test.
Unlike the dune buggy-like moon rovers of yore, the Ford Ranger-sized LER depends on lithium ion batteries and is currently using a chemistry that packs 125 wh/kg of energy, though NASA, not unlike today's would-be electric car buyer, hopes to have at least a 60 percent improvement in that number before it leaves the sales lot launch pad. The pack will not only need to hold lots of juice but be engineered to perform without being affected by the exterior temperature which can swing from -153 C all the way up to 107 C. Unlike any electric earth-based vehicles (so far), the LEV has an exercise bike built in that can be used to give the batteries a boost in case of emergency or just to alleviate perceived range anxiety. Also, like many of the new breed of electric cars, the moon rover features an advanced navigation software. The improved smarts helped the rover track down the missing crew in less than an hour without any help from its heuristically programmed algorithmic computer. Hit the jump for a NASA Desert Rats video discussing the machine and its mission.