While the MDI AIRpod is hardly “new news”, nary an auto journalist has managed to get behind the joystick (no steering wheel here) to test the viability of this odd-yet-innovative vehicle. In case you haven’t heard, the MDI AIRpod is a concept vehicle designed to run solely on compressed air as means of transportation, though no working models had been released to the press. But as the AIRpod nears actual production, MDI has begun inviting journalists to take a whirl in a prototype model, and Edmunds Inside Line was first in the queae it seems.
The AIRpod they drove was only a prototype, so you can take from their impressions what you will. But, just having the AIRpod on the road is a major first step towards actual commercialization of what was once just a wacky concept.
The first thing you might notice is that the AIRpod doesn’t much appear to look like a car. You enter through the front of the pod via a hatch that opens up-and-over the vehicle. As I mentioned earlier, you steer with a joystick rather than steering. The concept originally also used the joystick for propulsion, but the system proved awkward so instead there are small pedals for acceleration and stopping. Though there is seating for four full-sized adults, three of them have to enter through a rear hatch and sit on a rear-facing bench seat. You also probably noticed that instead of the typical four-wheel layout, the AIRpod is set up more like a tricycle. Everything is designed to conserve weight, and the AIRpod manages to tip the scales at just 485 pounds. I have friends who weigh more than that!
By now you are probably wondering: how does it run? Well first, here are some stats. Using an engine modified to run on only compressed air, the MDI makes a whooping 6 horsepower and 11 ft-lbs of torque. So not only do I have friends who weigh more, but I’ve used lawnmowers with more horsepower as well (I used to do commercial landscaping, very fun stuff). With one person in the AIRpod, the top speed hovers somewhere around 30 mph (production cars should go as fast as 50 mph, according to MDI), faster than any of my lawn mowers for sure. It also has a range of between 90 and 125 miles, according to MDI, which to me is by far the most impressive stat. Did I mention it runs only on air?
I will let you read Edmunds for their driving impressions of the prototype, because MDI still has plenty of improvements to add to the AIRpod. Things like air conditioning (those silly circular windows don’t open), sound dampening (the engine is under the seats) and a softer suspension. But this may just be the revolutionary concept that becomes a common sight on city streets, as the 2,900 psi air tanks can be filled in around two minutes. For comparisons sake, most hydrogen concepts have tanks with around 10,000 psi; not something you want to be sitting on in a serious accident.
MDI estimates that the AIRpod would cost around just a penny-per-mile to operate, and it has already begun leasing them for trial to Air France and KLM airlines as people and cargo movers. Further, the $8,340 starting price could be halved by the time tax and green-car incentives are taken into account, making it quite cost effective. There are plans for the AIRpod to begin testing over here in the U.S. as well, though when and where, I don’t know.
Cool stuff, and I certainly hope to hear more about it in the coming months.
Source: Edmunds Inside Line
Photos: MDI Enterprises