Monday, April 13, 2009
For decades, people have been obsessed with the idea of a car that can do more than just drive on the road.
Whether dressing them up with propellers or slapping skis on them, designers, crackpot inventors and particularly filmmakers have done their best to translate the automobile into almost every possible environment.
A particular standout is the idea of a car that is as comfortable out on the water as it is on the highway.
Amphibious cars have been around in one form or another since the 60’s, both in James Bond movies and in the garages of people with altogether too much money to spend.
One of the rare automobile variants that has actually been successfully brought to market, it has nevertheless been nothing more than a novelty niche vehicle.
That all could change if Rinspeed actually moves ahead with production of their sQuba Concept. This sporty 2 door roadster is not only an attractive, peppy road car but it also claims to be able to submerge to a depth of up to ten meters and then cut through the water like a submarine.
That’s right – this convertible can actually go underwater.
If at first that seems like the worst possible thing you could do with the top down, well, you are right. To top things off, the entire vehicle is powered exclusively by batteries.
Assuming the idea of driving a topless submarine car into a lake and dunking the batteries in water hasn’t completely turned you off, then you might also be interested to know that this miracle of engineering has a dual propulsion system once undersea.
Two propellers at the rear of the car and two jet propulsion devices at the front push the sQuba on its course. Based on the Lotus Elise, the car employs carbon nano-tubes to keep the weight down and buoyancy just right.
The driver and passenger benefit from a self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (SCUBA – get it?) that provides them with enough air to survive their deep-sea excursions. Equally impressive, a laser sensor system can actually pilot the car completely autonomously, if required.
It is interesting to note that the famous Bond submarine car was also a Lotus, albeit the larger Esprit model. It also had a roof. But moving beyond the movie tie-in, it is important to note that Rinspeed has achieved their goal of a submersible sports car while at the same time creating a zero-emissions vehicle.
When a boutique designer like Rinspeed can devote enough resources to such an outlandish concept car yet at the same time ensure that the vehicle maintain an environmental consciousness, it begs the question as to why major auto manufacturers aren’t able to muster up their enormous resources and create at least one commercially viable electric vehicle.
The Rinspeed sQuba is a fun idea, a car that will likely never be mass produced, but it is also a wake up call to those who would steer away from ecological innovation and continue to toe the status quo line. Perhaps one day a sQuba will rise up out of the waters of lake Michigan and startle the big three into action.
Development and History
The sQuba, developed by Swiss company Rinspeed, is the world's first car that can be driven both on land and under water. The original idea by Rinspeed founder and CEO Frank M. Rinderknecht was inspired by the 1977 James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me. The Lotus Elise is the basis of this car.
The sQuba is a zero-emission, all electric vehicle which uses three electric motors, one for land travel and two for water. It drives on land powered by its electric rear-wheel drive powertrain, utilizing rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. Upon entering water, it floats on the surface until the operator floods the interior to submerge it. It can be submerged to a depth of 10 metres (33 ft), powered by twin electric-powered propellers supplemented by two Seabob water jets. It "flies" when underwater, like a submarine, as it is not designed to drive along the surface at the bottom of the water. The car's top land speed is 120 km/h (75 mph). On the surface of water, the top speed is 6 km/h (3.2 kn/3.7 mph) and underwater it is 3 km/h (1.6 kn/1.9 mph).
The vehicle can transport a driver and passenger in its open cockpit. The open cockpit design is intended to allow the occupants to escape easily in case of emergency. When underwater, the occupants breathe air carried in the vehicle through scuba-style rebreathers. Without occupants, the sQuba will surface automatically. The twin water jets mounted on rotating louvers at the front of the vehicle provide steering and lift while it is underwater and the propellers at the rear provide forward movement.
The vehicle's interior is water and salt resistant so that it can be driven in the ocean.
The sQuba also comes equipped with a laser sensor system made by autonomous cruise control system manufacturer Ibeo to allow autonomous operation.
The inspiration for the sQuba was the animated Lotus Esprit driven by James Bond in The Spy Who Loved Me. During the thirty years since the movie premiered, Rinspeed founder and CEO Frank M. Rinderknecht wanted to build a car that could move underwater like a submarine.
The existing, functioning prototype cost more than US$1.5 million to build. When the sQuba enters production, they are expected to "cost less than a Rolls-Royce", according to Rinderknecht. A production schedule has not been made.
Rinderknecht admits that there will be limited appeal for a car that can dive underwater. The car will be marketed as a "toy for rich people".