Ontario Drive & Gear (ODG) not only produces personal utility vehicles that can handle the most demanding terrains on the planet but the extremes of the moon’s harsh environment as well. Lorie Greenspan looks into the company’s ingenuity on land and on sea and on the face of the moon.
No other vehicle can go from land to water…or from earth to the moon.
Correction: No other vehicle from a single company has the ability to become a boat and then climb a rugged mountain or plow through the toughest terrain on the planet. And the next planet, or in this case, the next moon.
But the utility vehicles from Ontario Drive & Gear (ODG), located in New Hamburg, Ontario, Canada, have earned a place ahead of the competition in a field heavily populated by some of the top names in the utility vehicle business. But for the Paraguay military, which has just ordered eleven of ODG’s sturdy products; or Indonesia, which has need of their strength and durability in search and rescue operations following two devastating tsunamis or, conversely, a palm fruit plantation in Malaysia, or the Romanian mountain patrol, which couldn’t find any company in Europe offering vehicles that could cross unforgiving mountain terrain to perform utility maintenance, there is no match for ODG’s versatile, heavy-duty products.
On top of this, there is also a possible contract with the Canada Space Agency and NASA, which so prefers the company’s lunar vehicle technology, adapted from its utility vehicle expertise, that it is willing to bypass offerings from top competitors to put ODG’s rover vehicle on the moon in 2017 to search out water ice reserves.
In a way the name ODG underscores the ingenuity at work: Vehicles such as these are all about the best drive and gear technology on the market. And then some.
Living in the Extreme
For starters, let’s take a look at the company’s utility vehicles for large property owners who must drive in extremely difficult terrain. Perhaps they are hunting and need to retrieve their game after shooting; perhaps it’s a company offering safaris and eco-tours.
“The large property owner who lives in extreme terrain with deep snow and steep hills has to get around, and prefers to have one vehicle like ours that does it all instead of owning a snow mobile, a boat and an all-terrain vehicle (ATV),” says Bernhard Wagenknecht, ODG’s vice president of sales and marketing. “They own property and like to drive in difficult land conditions. We provide a personal utility vehicle that offers performance and capabilities on extreme terrain.”
The key differentiator, he says, is ODG’s built-in amphibious capability as well as the ability for the vehicle to travel on extreme terrain. “People buy our product because no other vehicle gets the job done,” he added. And that includes vehicles from the company’s indirect competitors, among the biggest names in utility vehicles on the globe: Polaris, John Deere, Kubota, Kawasaki, Honda and Suzuki. “They’re all the key players,” Wagenknecht notes, adding, “We are a small company in Canada with rigs that can out-perform theirs.”
Argo and Centaur
The names attached to these extraordinary vehicles are the Argo and Centaur. In the commercial off-road market, the 8X8 models of each are designed to meet stringent requirements, transporting people and equipment through challenging terrain. They have a proven record in numerous markets including utility, exploration, mining, forestry and the public sector.
Argo vehicles can be equipped with high performance tracks, a cargo/dump box or drill providing a lower cost solution in comparison to more expensive tracked vehicles. They feature the following:
- Flexible rear cargo platform;
- Quick change of customized equipment;
- Very low ground pressure;
- Operation in flooded areas;
- Ability to cross deep mud and marshy terrain;
- Fully amphibious without vehicle preparation;
- Seating for up to 6 people;
- Ability to travel over deep snow and ice;
- High altitude performance;
- Ability to overcome obstacles and rocky terrain.
When required, the newest vehicle in the lineup, ARGO 8×8 XTI, can be equipped with an optional rollover protection structure (ROPS) with integral driver and passenger seat belts and an optional windshield to provide occupant safety. The ROPS is certified to ISO: 5700 and mounts directly to the main chassis; its design enables the vehicle to be used as a two-person-plus cargo configuration. Adding the optional modular rear ROPS and rear bench seat allows for the safe transport of four passengers.
Another model, the Argo 750HDi, is a top seller with 70 percent of the market. This eight-wheel-drive amphibious off-road vehicle features an OHV V-Twin liquid cooled 748cc, 31 hp Kohler Aegis LH 775 electronic fuel-injected engine. It features effective throttle response, excellent fuel economy, reliable cold weather starting and outstanding high-altitude performance, delivering work crews and equipment anywhere they are needed. Even flooded areas, small streams and muskeg are no match for these amphibious vehicles. Helicopters or tracked hydrostatic vehicles may be able to get the job done, but they also have a very high cost to operate and maintain. Argo offers a low cost solution to replace expensive tracked vehicles when people and equipment transport is required.
ODG’s other utility vehicle, the Centaur, is described as a heavy-duty, extreme-terrain vehicle. The 8X8 model is engineered to be a reliable partner in the toughest conditions imaginable, going through deep mud and over rocks, snow, and ice. With a total load capacity of 1,500 pounds on land, the Centaur transports a crew of two, plus supplies, to remote job locations. While the vehicle is not fully amphibious like its brother, the Argo, it can nonetheless cross water and flooded areas with a fording depth of 26 inches and its sealed lower body protects people and equipment when extreme terrain performance is required.
The Centaur also has an adaptable rear platform for the mounting of specialized equipment or as mid-vehicle hitching points. It is an all season workhorse performing when other vehicles can’t get the job done.
With all of these characteristics and capabilities, it’s no wonder the company sells its products in 70 countries, including Russia, to oil and gas exploration as well as the private property owner; Australia’s mining industry, China and India, Africa and the Middle East, Europe, England, Germany and Norway, Latin America and Central America.
ODG sells about 2,000 vehicles a year, ranging in price from $10,000-20,000 for personal utility vehicles to upwards of $45,000-70,000 for the Centaur.
“We continue to expand and continue to make our product work harder and better,” Wagenknecht stresses, adding that the company’s utility vehicles are the “most reliable extreme terrain vehicles out there. There’s no one in the world with our distribution and dealer network and performance at this price level.”
To the Moon
ODG’s next adventure will take place on the lunar surface as its special platform for lunar vehicles has outdone the competition through its lightweight, robust and simple design and is set to travel across the moon in 2017.
“We took our experience and expertise in UTVs and applied it to our rover,” says Peter Visscher, ODG’s Space/Robotics program manager.
It all started five years ago with the retirement of the space shuttle and with the Canada Space Agency’s (CSA) goal to invent the next generation of space rovers. In 2008, ODG was approached by a consortium – the Neptec Design Group, NORCAT and COM DEV and asked to participate in the design of a lunar rover. ODG provided a rover concept called “Darth Crater” for the “Lunar Rover Concept Study.” The concept vehicle was a pair of simple, low cost rovers that could be attached together to support a human mission. The rovers could also be operated individually via remote control. In 2009, ODG built a prototype of this concept named “Juno Rover”. These rovers were tested with CSA and NASA in Hawaii in 2010.
In 2011, ODG continued rover development with a contract from the CSA for a large eight-wheel rover. Known as Artemis Sr., this rover was considerably larger than previous ODG rovers, capable of travelling faster and farther with considerably more payload. Like all previous ODG rovers, Artemis Sr. retained the ability to carry large and heavy pay-loads. A unique set of interchangeable interface plates were designed to allow the rover to be used for virtually any lunar-related task.
Next, ODG designed a lightweight rover known as Artemis Junior. This rover was a significant step towards becoming flight ready, as it was designed to operate in extremely dusty conditions with large temperature swings. A special set of wheels were designed, built, and tested by ODG. Midway through the development phase, it was evident that Artemis Jr. was able to provide the low cost, low mass mobility required for NASA’s next space initiative, which entails a hardware system called the “Regolith and Environment Science and Oxygen and Lunar Volatile Extraction” (RESOLVE) that would be mounted on CSA’s Artemis Jr. rover. RESOLVE includes a drill, a chemical plant (with an oxygen and volatiles extraction node, gas chromatograph, and mass spectrometer), a neutron spectrometer, and a near infrared spectrometer.
“Our team built a total of 15 rovers; to date the latest one was again tested in Hawaii with a NASA team practicing for the moon,” Visscher explained, adding that the Hawaiian high desert is the closest to the moon’s terrain. One of the missions, Visscher pointed out, is to learn where and how much water is on the lunar surface.
“We know there is water ice on the moon,” Visscher said. “Every kilogram of water you bring to the moon costs between $100,000 and $200,000. We’re going to send a robot to the moon and drill there for water. The entire cost is approximately the cost of sending up the space shuttle just once.”
What separates Artemis from the competition, once more, is the design. “On the moon, dust is abrasive and there is no air; it’s a hard vacuum,” Visscher points out. This means special wheels, made of aluminum, spring steel and titanium, have been created as part of a NASA and CSA initiative.
In addition, temperature swings on the moon are dramatic: The days are 14 days long and the nights are 14 nights long. With no air, when the sun goes down the temperature drops to -150C or lower; with the sun up, the temperature swings to +150C. This means that all electronics need to be well insulated. In addition, the abrasive soil may harm the rover’s bearings.
To handle all of the complicated problems associated with sending a vehicle to the moon, ODG’s lunar team has developed a very simple machine with fewer parts and fewer chances of things going wrong, including adapting Argo technologically to ensure the durability of the vehicle and its bearings.
And what has been the response from the CSA? “They love our rovers,” Visscher says. “When you are on the moon, something could go wrong. The last thing you want is a fragile rover. We built it simpler, and rugged, with a chassis shaped like a U, so payloads can be placed in the middle. We built the rover around the payload.”
And if a company can place such a rugged vehicle on the moon, imagine what it can do for the extreme terrains of our own planet. For ODG it’s not the sky that is limitless, but the land and how we cover it.