Floating the idea of an amphibious car

There has been a lot of media attention recently about jam-busting flying cars, but in these days of global warming, rising sea levels and ...

There has been a lot of media attention recently about jam-busting flying cars, but in these days of global warming, rising sea levels and historic flooding of major cities, it would seem to make more sense if we were to focus a bit more on cars that are equipped to battle the wet stuff.

Building a city car with amphibious capabilities may sound like a bit of a contradiction but this was exactly what Hideo Tsurumaki, CEO of First One Mile Mobility (FOMM), a small Japanese company, is trying to do. Inspired by the devastating Japanese Tsunami in 2011, Hideo had the dream of creating a car that would be a capable town car most of the time but has the ability to float out of trouble when the need arises. Although inspired by events in Japan, FOMM’s first prototype named ‘Concept One’ was designed for Bangkok and Southern Thailand’s flood-prone areas which have suffered from catastrophic flooding a number of times in the past few years.

Designing and building an amphibious vehicle is not an easy task; there have been many attempts in the past and most have been consigned to the dustbin of failure due to the compromises needed in the design and the cost to build. Perhaps the biggest compromise is whether to gear the car more towards land use or skimming the sea. Hideo’s idea was to optimise the vehicle for land use but allow it to have limited ability to float and move on water.

"Its amphibious ability is only there for emergency situations, which could mean the difference between life and death", Hideo said in a recent interview, further explaining that maintenance is required after use in floods and any water submersion. The vehicle is controlled more like the familiar Thai Tut-Tut’s, with a motorbike-style central handle bar with all of the controls on it. Propulsion for both land and flood comes from two front in-hub 5kW electric motors mounted in the front wheels, which Hideo maintains is preferred as the regenerative braking system would cause the wheels to lock up and skid in wet conditions if they had been rear mounted. Hideo does admit though that whilst this gives the vehicle greater ability as a town car, it has made the vehicle more expensive than he had originally envisaged.

In the water, propulsion comes from both the tire treads and cleverly designed wheels with a bladed profile that act like an impeller when rotating at high speeds; turning the wheels also acts as a rudder for steering as the water is then directed much like in a jet-ski.

Testing of the prototype has begun and potential improvements will be adopted for the second prototype that is already in manufacturing, which may include a four-wheel drive option to improve in-water speed if costs can be kept down. The vehicle is made of plastics and tubular steel, and weighs in at a mere 450 kilos, giving this lightweight mode of transportation a range of about 100 kilometres and a top speed of about 50kph. FOMM is hoping that the changes to be made can be done relatively quickly and manufacturing could begin as soon as late 2015 with a target market of urban Bangkok residents who live in flood-prone areas. By our estimation, residents of Manila and Jakarta could also benefit from this car. 

images: greencarreports.com, carnews.beforward.jp


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