The car as vacuum cleaner

The car as vacuum cleaner

Posted by

Martin Brown

May 2021

Imagine this: you drive a zero emission car, so you’ve eradicated local pollution issues.

Good. All positive.

Then add this capability: the ability to suck up and ‘clean’ air pollution as you drive.

Hold on, what….?

In my mind it’s a bit like drinking beer and having a filtration system that ensures you don’t wake up with a hangover. Double whammy good, no?

Well, take a look at this: the IM Motors concept car. It’s been designed by a London design agency Heatherwick Studio (credits include the London Routemaster bus and Maggie’s Leeds, an award winning building for the cancer help charity that Fleet Alliance supports).

The car is called AIRO, and it’s designed as either a fully autonomous or driver controlled vehicle with a multifunctional interior. This can be configured into a table with four seats for conferences or as a dining table, or even as a sleeping area.

But what makes it really different is the fact that it filters out pollution as it drives along with something called a HEPA filter. Now, if like me, you’ve not come across a HEPA filter before, it’s a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtering system that forces air through a mesh-like membrane that traps micro particles.

In fact it’s also made available on the Tesla Model X to filter the interior air (or to “scrub it clean” in Tesla Speak – look for Bioweapon Defense Mode).  But whereas the Model X’s system looks after the car’s interior, the AIRO does it for the air outside it.

Imagine the AIRO as a mobile vacuum cleaner, sucking up dirty air and expelling cleaner air behind it. Cool, no?


Now, you might imagine this is all just plain fanciful, the imaginative creation of a design studio looking for a wow factor, an easy in for a headline story at the Shanghai Auto where the car was first shown. But no. This is already a thing.

In Southampton, the transport company Go-Ahead Group has launched an ‘Air Filtering Bus’ that helps reduce pollution in cities.

Each of the single-decker buses is fitted with an air filtering system made up of three fans on the roof that suck ultra-fine particles and dirt into special filters. The bus simply strips the air of pollutants as it carries passengers around its route. The ‘sucker’ buses are now being deployed in a further six regions by the transport group.

According to Go-Ahead, a single bus has the ability to remove as much as 65g of pollutants from the air – equivalent to the weight of a tennis ball – in a 100-day period (while having cleaned 3.2 million cubic meters of city air).

So the AIRO has the potential to reduce pollution while it drives while having no emissions of its own. Some car.

Some car, but is it just a concept to be quietly forgotten? According to IM Motors, a brand launched by Zhiji Motors, which also has the backing of China’s largest car maker SAIC Motor and Alibaba (China’s equivalent to Amazon), the car will be launched in 2023.

Until then, we’ll have to let the buses get on with cleaning up the air…

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