India's Tata Motors is working on a revolutionary new concept car that looks like a cross between a 2001 space pod and the Alvin deep sea explorer. But unlike those vehicles, this one runs on compressed air — a power source that could create a viable alternative to electric cars, in terms of its affordability and environmental impact.

Writing in The Atlantic Cities, John Metcalfe explains how the Airpod works:

Sadly, these vehicles do not function by farting out a loud stream of gas that propels them forth. They instead are built with pneumatic motors that use pressurized air to drive pistons. In the case of Tata, a company that's developing a line of "nano" cars (including this bulletproof dwarf tank), the engines come from Luxembourg firm MDI, which has been tooling around with air automation for more than two decades.

Tata bought the rights to sell MDI's creations in India five years ago, but the project's proven difficult to get popping. But in May, the motor giant announced that it had completed the "first phase" of the Airpod, successfully testing out the engines in two vehicles. The Airpod team presumably is now in Phase 2, polishing up on the hardware in advance of a commercial launch.

So what does this auto of the future look like? Following the smartcar trend, it resembles something that stumbled out of Pixar's Cars. The mid-sized model fits three passengers, although one must face backward like he's being punished for something, and is streamlined almost to the point of becoming a sphere. Its tank can hold 175 liters of air, which a driver gets either at a specialized fueling station or by activating an onboard electric motor to suck it in. Its makers say that filling er' up will cost a paltry €1, and that a full tank of air can last for roughly 125 miles.

There's more at The Atlantic Cities. And don't forget to watch the video in the banner.

Via KurzweilAI.