Tata Motors zero-pollution Airpod is inching closer to becoming a real thing.

Using compressed air to power cars is something people have experimented with since at least 1840. That's when two French men named Andraud and Tessie tested such a gaseous vehicle on a track. The eco-friendly automobile "worked well," reports the air-car lobby, which exists, "but the idea was not pursued further. "

Why not? Perhaps because making a practical, well-working model is damnably hard. But India's Tata Motors is pushing the technology forward, inch by inch, with its project to build "Airpods" zero-pollution, cute-as-a-bug smartcars that zip along at 40 m.p.h. via the magic of squeezed air.

Sadly, these vehicles do not function by farting out a loud stream of gas that propels them forth. They instead are built with pneumatic motors that use pressurized air to drive pistons. In the case of Tata, a company that's developing a line of "nano" cars (including this bulletproof dwarf tank), the engines come from Luxembourg firm MDI, which has been tooling around with air automation for more than two decades.

Tata bought the rights to sell MDI's creations in India five years ago, but the project's proven difficult to get popping. But in May, the motor giant announced that it had completed the "first phase" of the Airpod, successfully testing out the engines in two vehicles. The Airpod team presumably is now in Phase 2, polishing up on the hardware in advance of a commercial launch.

So what does this auto of the future look like? Following the smartcar trend, sort of like it stumbled off the set of Disney's Cars. The mid-sized model fits three passengers, although one must face backward like he's being punished for something, and is streamlined almost to the point of becoming a sphere. Its tank can hold 175 liters of air, which a driver gets either at a specialized fueling station or by activating an onboard electric motor to suck it in. Its makers say that filling er' up will cost a paltry 1, and that a full tank of air can last for roughly 125 miles.

While the Airpod is a commendable effort toward sustainability, commenters over at Designboom (where the below photos were submitted) have been cruel at pointing out supposed flaws in tiny ride. The criticisms range from "Drop the portholes - it's not for underwater" to this dismal view of the vehicle's future, which may or may not be correct:

Would need its own lane or communities devoid of trucks and SUVs, but a lovely idea. Possibly some stability issues -- think of the Reliant Robin -- especially solo. And the third world, probably the first big market, is pocked with potholes. In mass production under automated, just-in-time manufacturing, the price would drop by half or more. Exciting -- if not exactly a thrilling driving experience. But the future has to be more utilitarian, doesn't it.

Last photo courtesy of El monty on Wikipedia.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Transportation

    The Diverging Diamond Interchange Is Coming to a Road Near You

    Drivers may be baffled by these newfangled intersections, but they’re safer than traditional four-way stops.

  2. Workers in downtown London head to their jobs.
    POV

    How Cities Can Rebuild the Social Safety Net

    In an age of employment uncertainty and a growing income gap, urban America needs to find new ways to support its citizens.

  3. Communal space at classroom in Espoo, Finland.
    Design

    Why Finland Is Embracing Open-Plan School Design

    The country’s educational successes are undeniable, but simply demolishing school walls alone won’t necessarily replicate them.

  4. The Presidio Terrace neighborhood
    POV

    The Problem of Progressive Cities and the Property Tax

    The news that a posh San Francisco street was sold for delinquent taxes exposes the deeper issue with America’s local revenue system.

  5. A woman sits reading on a rooftop garden, with the dense city of Tokyo surrounding her.
    Solutions

    Designing a Megacity for Mental Health

    A new report assesses how Tokyo’s infrastructure affects residents’ emotional well-being, offering lessons for other cities.