N.B. company introduces electric off-road vehicle that acts as a camper

The Adventure 1 prototype has a system of cameras and sensors that can see the terrain coming up and makes decisions about things like traction and stability.  (Mike Heenan/CBC - image credit)
The Adventure 1 prototype has a system of cameras and sensors that can see the terrain coming up and makes decisions about things like traction and stability. (Mike Heenan/CBC - image credit)

A University of New Brunswick graduate noticed a gap in the transportation market, and now the 26-year-old is trying to fill it.

Sam Poirier graduated from UNB with a degree in mechanical engineering focusing on mechatronics, a combination of mechanics, electronics, and computing. During his degree, he completed an internship in Germany and noticed bans on gas and diesel vehicles coming into play impacting around 13 million vehicles at the time.

He started to recognize that the world was moving to electric transportation.

"It's happening now. It's not happening in 10 to 15 years, it's happening today, and there's going to be a lot of challenges associated with helping to transition the world to sustainable electric transportation," said Poirier. "So that's kind of where I got started."

WATCH Take a ride in N.B's first electric off-road prototype: 

This was the beginning of Potential Motors, based out of Hanwell, N.B. Poirier, the co-founder and CEO for the company, said a lot of his team was involved in off-roading, but fitting down trails in off-road vehicles wasn't always easy.

What makes the Adventure 1 unique?

Poirier said they combined the boom in off-roading and van life to create an electric vehicle with off-road capabilities, plus the ability to stay overnight with everything a camper might need, including a full bed, a pull-out kitchen and a water reserve.

Submitted by Sam Poirier
Submitted by Sam Poirier

Bill Lamey, Potential Motors' vice-president of engineering, said it's taken them about a year and a half to get to the point they are at with the Adventure 1 vehicle, with a functioning "production intent" prototype. He said it's been a big effort from their small team.

Lamey said there are a few things that make the Adventure 1 unique. He said autonomous driving becomes more difficult in non-static environments like off-road situations. So the Adventure 1 has a "perception system," which is a system of cameras and sensors that can see the terrain coming up and makes decisions about things like traction and stability.

"When you get an off-road, you don't have that luxury [of stable conditions]. Everything changes dynamically every second that you're driving," said Lamey. "So it's a really big challenge to control vehicles in these kinds of scenarios."

Submitted by Potential Motors
Submitted by Potential Motors

The future of off-road vehicles

Sheila Gonzalez, a software developer with Potential Motors, said every part of the Adventure 1, from the sensors to the motors, is controlled by a single computer. So if they need to change a software parameter, they don't have to re-code the software, they can just connect to the computer remotely and change the values.

Gonzalez said one of the company's goals is to eventually make the software available for other electric vehicles.

Mike Heenan/CBC
Mike Heenan/CBC

"We're designing it to be generic and scalable, so every other electric vehicle can actually use it with, let's say, minimum effort."

Lamey said he thinks this is the future of off-road vehicles, "but it's also the future of on-road vehicles." In the next decade, he expects to see all vehicles working from these types of "smart" platforms.

The Adventure 1, which is already available for pre-order, is $136,600 US. While not everyone will be able to afford Adventure 1, Poirier believes it sets the foundation for future versions that might be accessible to a greater number of people.

Mike Heenan/CBC
Mike Heenan/CBC

As for the immediate future, Poirier looks forward to showing the vehicle off around North America, but also dealing with the "hard road to production."

Lamey said being based in New Brunswick brings another set of challenges. Since there isn't a large automotive sector in the province, he said it's been a challenge to attract talent. But they've been able to bring people in by offering great company culture and exciting projects, he said.

"There aren't many companies in the world doing projects like these, where you're building a vehicle from the ground up for a very specific purpose," said Lamey.