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Driving on Air
Jamais Cascio, 25 Mar 04

Stu's Weblog points us to MDI, makers of the Air Car, an urban commute vehicle which runs on compressed air. Or, rather, is supposed to do so -- the first prototype only managed about 7 kilometers, rather than the couple hundred the final version is hoped to get. According to a recent article in Wired, the group is spending a lot of time trying to sell regional licenses for the vehicle as a means of funding its development. They're still looking for investors, so don't expect an Air Car on your block soon.

The Air Car concept seems worth looking at more closely, albeit with a full measure of skepticism in hand. Most of the attention the Air Car has received has been in Europe -- not surprising, given the designers seem to be in Spain, and the current model prototypes are much smaller than one would find on an American road. The Air Car site does a good job of describing the technology and exploring some of the possible applications beyond microcabs and mini-pickups. The tech, if it works, is interesting -- compressed air drives a two-stroke engine, generating a surprisingly decent amount of power. With a speed cap of 110 kmh -- about 60 mph -- I wouldn't take one on the freeway, but it's the kind of vehicle which would be perfect for point-to-point travel in dense urban settings.

Until I actually see that production has started of vehicles meeting the design criteria, I wouldn't pin my hopes on the Air Car as a vanguard of tomorrow. But the idea is interesting, the technology looks like it has potential... and it would be pretty cool if it did work.

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there must be something in the air. :)

on tuesday I posted a link to "How Things Work"'s article on "How Air-Powered Cars Will Work". They propose two techniques: a Two Cylinder Air-Compression Engine (being developed by French company Zero Pollution Motors--perhaps defunct, since their website has disappeared) and a Cryogenic Heat Engine being developed by the University of Washington.

I would repost all of it here, but your comments won't accept html. see .

Posted by: rebecca blood on 25 Mar 04

Thanks, Rebecca!

Posted by: Jamais Cascio on 26 Mar 04

What about using this technology for something that's much lighter than a car and doesn't need to go anywhere near as fast -- say, a powered wheelchair? Much of such a chair's weight comes from its lead-acid gel batteries. Replacing those would be a big advantage!

Posted by: Jane on 3 Apr 04

That's a great idea, Jane. You should suggest that to MDI -- it would be a good, lower-cost test platform, and give them some very positive press.

Posted by: Jamais Cascio on 4 Apr 04



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