The idea of an inexpensive urban transportation pod that runs on air has a tendency to immediately prod skeptics to reach for off-the-cuff jokes, but Indian OEM Tata Motors is not laughing as it experiments with its viability.
For the time being however, things are still up in the air, and some are waiting to see if Motor Developmental International (MDI) is full of hot air or whether it can get this concept aloft.
Actually, weak attempts at humor aside, Tata Motors says it has now proven the technical concept of MDI’s compressed air engine after the two companies in January 2007 signed a license agreement that enables Tata to produce and sell compressed air cars using MDI technology in India.
Yes, it’s so far, so good says Tata, which reports the first phase of its two-phase program was successfully completed with the compressed air engine concept having been demonstrated in two Tata Motors vehicles.
Tata says its second phase will see the two companies working together to complete detailed development of MDI’s air engine technology and required technical processes to industrialize a market ready product application over the coming years.
Although you may not have heard of such a wild idea as using the stuff we breath as a compressed energy source, pneumatic engines have been around since the 19th century.
Now in the 21st century, with humanity having burned so much of the petroleum that once even spilled out of the earth in places, MDI appears to be gaining acceptance for its new take on an antique technology.
The company claims pneumatic configurations are available for everything from dorky – or cute, you decide – looking pods to light aircraft.
Present power output can range from 4 horsepower to 75. Cost to drive a pod is around 50 cents per 62 miles (100 km). Cost for the pod as shown is estimated at under $9,000 (7,000 euros). Range is said to be 93—125 miles (150-200 km).
If Tata Motors and MDI can get this technology to work all the way to production-ready stage, we may be hearing more about it. Note Tata says it is testing the technology in its own experimental vehicles, so its manufacturing capability combined with the air-powered powerplant may produce vehicles far more feasible than the pods.
And no doubt the pods as configured would also be of limited use in the U.S., given safety regulations. Judging however by optimism expressed by its makers, it might be feasible to re-engineer a vehicle for U.S. requirements as well.
In any event, in India it’s apparently looking alright considering that pollution remains a problem to overcome, the population is teeming, money in places is scarce but upward mobility is happening just the same. There, many more people already risk their necks daily riding scooters and bikes with less safety margin, so this technology could lead to a big step up for some.
We shall see, right?