“Dad, Can I Take the Car for a Swim?”

May 8, 2008
If you love fresh seafood and own a wet suit, the sQuba could be the perfect car for you.

Swiss automotive designer and James Bond-enthusiast Frank Rinderknecht designed and built the submersible sQuba, similar to the fictional car driven by Roger Moore in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977). The biggest challenge, says Rinderknecht, was designing a car that moves like a fish.

Unlike some military vehicles that drive slowly over submerged terrain, the sQuba flies beneath the surface. “We could have designed for greater depths,” says Rinderknecht, CEO of Rinspeed Inc. “But what for? Visibility gets worse with increasing depth, and passengers would need to decompress.” At about 23 ft, a safety switch cuts off all systems. The sQuba then surfaces, or restarts at a lesser depth. The vehicle must move continuously or it will automatically surface.

Rinspeed chose Swiss engineering specialist Esoro to convert a 2008 Lotus Elite into the sQuba. The Lotus was picked for its open roof, small size, light weight, and good looks. The first step was replacing the engine with three electric motors in the rear. One propels the car on land. The other two — supported by jet drives in front — drive the screws. Louvers open and close to control water intake. The jets are made from lightweight carbon nanotubes.

The sQuba floats when driven into water. But cracking open a door floods it in about 10 sec. After another 10 sec, it submerges and accelerates. The passengers breathe compressed air stored in tanks in the trunk. After surfacing, heavy-duty bilge pumps drain the interior.

The open-cabin lets occupants exit quickly in emergencies. Besides, if there were a pressurized cabin, the car would have to weigh 2 tons more to counteract the buoyancy.

Foot pedals control water jets on either side of the car. The left pedal controls the left Seabob jet and the right pedal controls the right one. Two levers replace the normal gearshift and control the angle of the jets. Pushing the levers forward takes the car down, while pulling back brings it up. Controls on the driver’s-side door operate the rear propellers, which turn the car left or right.

Power comes from watertight, rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. All high-voltage components are sealed in a pressuretight box. Underwater, the sQuba will run for about 3 hr, in either fresh or saltwater.

Back on shore, the driver only has to push a button to send power to the rear wheels. Range is about 50 miles at 50 mph. Laser sensors let the car steer itself. Ibeo LUX laser scanners serve as intelligent eyes that guide the vehicle through traffic. On terra firma, the car relies on stainless coil-over suspension, but it’s more at home in the water.

In a nod to 007’s revolving license plate, the rear display changes from “Zero Emission” to “sQuba” in underwater mode.

Make Contact
Rinspeed Inc., rinspeed.com

The Swiss designer of this submersible car was inspired by James Bond.

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