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A car that cleans the air.

Every winter, smog, and discussions about its negative impact on health appear, as is the case every year. Scientists identify car transportation as one of the leading causes of smog in cities. But what if cars, instead of polluting, cleaned the air?

Every winter, smog, and discussions about its negative impact on health appear, as is the case every year. Scientists identify car transportation as one of the leading causes of smog in cities. But what if cars, instead of polluting, cleaned the air?

At the 2022 British Goodwood Festival of Speed, a car was presented designed to absorb air pollutants while driving. According to experts, what assumptions guided its creators, and what are the chances of implementing similar solutions on a mass scale?

A car that “eats” smog

The extraordinary vehicle is called Airo, and British designer Thomas Heatherwick, responsible for the Google headquarters in California and London, among other projects, created it. He hopes that Airo will be in production in China in 2023. The plans assume an output of one million units. The radical project is intended to solve not only the problem of environmental pollution but also to help solve the “space crisis.”

Future technology

Heatherwick aimed to create an electric car that would stand out not only in terms of shape. However, it must be admitted that Airo’s appearance is unusual. The vehicle has a large glass roof and textured, undulating bodywork. The body shape reflects the airflow over the car in the external ridges. The front grille will be equipped with an air filter that will collect several solid particles the size of a tennis ball over a year. “It may not sound impressive, but imagine that tennis ball in your lungs. This car contributes to cleaning the air in cities. Think about what a million such cars can do in China,” Heatherwick encourages. The interior was designed to look like a room, with adjustable seats that can be transformed into beds and a central table for meetings or meals. The steering wheel, necessary when the driver decides to turn off autonomous driving mode, is hidden in the dashboard.

Extra room?

After fighting smog, the second big idea behind the car project is addressing the space shortage problem. “Covid has drawn even more attention to the issue of the space crisis. Many of us live in small apartments and need more space, such as an office or study,” Heatherwick said. There are believed to be a billion cars worldwide, which owners use about 10% of the time. This gives the potential for them to become “valuable real estate.” The inspiration for this idea came from first-class airline seats, which are used for “sleeping, eating, entertainment, and work.” When not driving, the car becomes a multifunctional space. The futuristic vehicle will be priced at around £40,000, which Heatherwick described as “not crazy luxury.” Ultimately, it is intended to be something that not only the elite group of wealthy people can afford.

Critics need more convincing

Some experts see the project’s potential value but note that the air cleaning function could be more innovative.

Undoubtedly, Airo’s bold styling and design catch the eye. However, it could be more innovative regarding air purification functions. Japanese manufacturers implemented this technology successfully in the 1990s and incorporated it into their product line. Companies leading the production of electric and hydrogen buses in our country have products that use this technology. For example, this type of bus is currently being tested by Wrocław MZK.

Grzegorz Wychowaniec, Team Manager Electric Endego

Others must be convinced that Airo can be more than a concept car. Peter Wells, professor of business and sustainable development at the Center for Automotive Industry Research at Cardiff Business School, said, “I think this car can only make a small contribution to solving many problems associated with owning and using a car. Its impact on air purification in urban areas would be so small that it would be impossible to measure. In addition, Professor Wells sees little likelihood that the vehicle will go into mass production in its current form. “The automotive industry has a long history of creating media hype around concept cars, but the transition to production – if it ever happens – usually means replacing exciting features with something more practical, easier to manufacture, and profitable,” he said. Airo’s creator has a different opinion, but admitted that he may need to “simplify” the project before it goes into production. “This is not a fantasy,” said Heatherwick. “By design, it’s not just a concept car. „ We’re working with the manufacturer and focusing on feasible ideas,” he added.

One such car will not solve air pollution or cramped living conditions. However, the trend of fighting CO2 emissions and pollution is gaining importance. It is highly likely to contribute to popularizing similar vehicles, especially in urban areas. Who knows, in a few years, only such cars will be able to move through the centers of agglomerations. As for the prospects of starting mass production this year, it is a somewhat optimistic vision, although anything is possible in China.

Grzegorz Wychowaniec, Team Manager Electric Endego


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