29 May 2009

100 mpg Spira With a Body Made of Foam

The three-wheeled 2 seater pictured here has a body made of foam. It only weights 300 pounds, and goes 100 miles on a gallon of gasoline. Its engine is only 110 ccs, but for city commutes it should get a person or two to a destination safely for little expense.
The Spira has been developed by its inventor Lon Ballard, largely around the properties of reinforced foam. Apart from the engine, wheels and lightweight aluminium frame, about 90 percent of the Spira's body is made from 6-inch thick foam, which can itself be made from renewable sources, like soybeans. The layers of foam are reinforced with fiberglass strips for extra strength.

The foam is so light that the entire weight of the Spira has been kept down to 302lb ( 137kg). For that you get a fully enclosed two-seater, with a 110cc scooter engine and three wheels, that will do 70mph comfortably on the freeway. The millions of air cells in the foam act as tiny airbags in a collision, giving both the occupants, and whatever they've crashed into, a good degree of protection.

The pointed front-end of the Spira is chosen for its aerodynamics and safety, although we're not sure how much we agree with the philosophy that "in a crash it is best to deflect and roll as in Judo", particularly when you're rolling on a crowded, chaotic Thai freeway. Still, crash testing is high on the priority list for the manufacturer.

If the thought of getting around in Thailand's humid heat in a fully enclosed vessel worries you, and the small slit of window you can open doesn't convince you, the entire roof of the Spira can be taken off to make it a sort of convertible. But then, you've got to leave the top at home - and you'd better have a strong noggin, because there's no roll bar on the prototype to support the "Judo roll" front-impact philosophy. Best to get something in place for that, I reckon.

A further unexpected benefit of a lightweight foam body is buoyancy. The Spira will happily float - which is great for all those occasions when your car ploughs into the water. It's not truly amphibious because there's no water drive system and the road-going componentry wouldn't be too fond of the drink in the long run - but still, I guess you could pack some oars, and there's no reason why a fully amphibious version can't be built sometime down the track. _Gizmag
Spira's makers should consider building a water-propulsion system, given that the vehicle should float so well.

As nanotechnology and materials science provide more advanced materials, engineers should feel more free to take their designs to the limit of what the new materials can do.

In an Obama depression, the temptation is to lie low and hope you have a job when the destruction finally ends. Perhaps a bit of daring is called for instead.


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