The Concept

The Vulcan is an experimental vehicle designed to complete a Journey to the Center of the Earth. It could be used by scientists to carry out studies and test theories by travelling into lava. Smaller robotic versions could also be used to collect data on moons and planets where there is volcanic activity.

Origin of the Idea

Which part of earth haven’t we explored yet? One hint: it’s by far one of the biggest places on the planet. It’s earth’s mantle, and it’s located just beneath a relatively thin crust of rocks. What if we could develop a vehicle capable of exploring it? One way to start would be to design and test such a vehicle in lakes of lava near volcanoes. That’s what the Vulcan concept is about.

How It Works

The temperature of lava depends on the type of melted rock it’s formed with. Rhyolite, for example, at 800 °C is much cooler than Basalt at 1250 °C. In any case, the Vulcan’s outer shell would be made with Ultra-high-temperature ceramics capable of withstanding temperatures in excess of 2000 °C.

The Vulcan’s interior would be insulated from all the heat and would need to be continuously cooled. I doubt it can be done with current technology, but eventually a heat transfer system could be designed to cool the interior to temperatures at which rugged electronic equipment can function. Subsequent versions could be designed so that a human can go aboard for a short period of time… if someone ever dares to take up that challenge!

One other problem is propulsion. How do you move a vehicle in a liquid that can be over 1,000 times more viscous than water? I was thinking about soundwaves or shockwaves that could push the vehicle by using a concave shape (take a look at the rear side of the Vulcan), but there are probably better ways to address this issue, and you’re invited to pitch in if you have good ideas.

The Vulcan could also feature pincers made of special type of super alloys to position test samples or equipment under the lava. Its shell could split open to reveal a protected access, or maybe a side door could be designed, although this would complicate things due to the high temperature. Finally, a temporary crane/hoist could be used to lower the vehicle and raise it up.

What It’s Used For

If you have read Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, you have probably spent some time wondering if travelling in earth’s mantle could be done one day. Humans are explorers, and the Vulcan is a vehicle envisioned to cross one boundary we haven’t pushed yet. Maybe one day it will be possible. If we need a justification, I am sure scientists across the earth will have hundreds of hypotheses to test and experiments to conduct with an extreme machine like the Vulcan.

Special Thanks

I would like to thank Olivier Peraldi, who helped me work on the Vulcan concept. Olivier is a regular Imaginactive collaborator. The images of the Vulcan concept were created by Abhishek Roy. Abhishek is the founder of Lunatic Koncepts, a start-up design lab based in India. Abhishek’s team also created the renderings of the Antipode supersonic jet and the Subfire patrol drone.