Clean driving

Heatherwick Studio with IM Motors has unveiled a fully automated electric-powered concept vehicle that uses a HEPA filter to clean ambient air while driving.
by Anna Moldenhauer | 5/1/2021

Cars are not the first thing that come to mind when thinking of the work of Heatherwick Studio. The London-based design and architecture firm headed by Thomas Heatherwick is better known for unusual building structures, be it the Vessel in New York City, the Zeitz MOCAA in Cape Town or the sculptural British Pavilion at Expo 2010, also called the "Seed Cathedral". In fact, "Airo" is not the first project in the field of mobility for the British designer, in 2010, in collaboration with Wrightbus, he presented his version of the classic red "London Bus", a wind cut double decker with hybrid electric diesel propulsion.

Now Heatherwick has gone one step further and presented his first concept for an electric, self-driving car with IM Motors at the Shanghai Motor Show: Based on the dynamic curves of the "Spun" circle chair, which the designer created for Magis in 2012, the body of "Airo" offers an aerodynamic aesthetic. It also features wide sliding glass doors and a panoramic roof. The spacious interior is also customizable as needed and intended as a flexible space, with four 360-degree rotating seats that can also form a bed and retractable elements such as a table or screen. Instead of spending most of the day unused in a parking bay, the interior could thus be used for work or leisure. In parallel, Heatherwick has included a benefit for the environment in the design of "Airo," because while the car is in motion, ambient air is drawn in, cleaned of particles and expelled again by means of HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filter technology in the underbody of the vehicle - a similar concept to Daan Roosegaarde's "Smog Free Bike" or "Smog Free Tower" and Kirsten Tapping's "Rolloe" wheel system.

"Airo is a car intended to transport us to a cleaner and better future," said Thomas Heatherwick. And Stuart Wood, partner and group leader at Heatherwick Studio adds, "Transportation and mobility are not only going through a technological revolution but also a social one. There’s a new ethically conscious generation who expect a car to do so much more than just offer transportation from one place to another; they want a device that fulfils and expands upon their functional needs and meets their values. Until now, the functionality of a car has been narrowly defined as a fuel and space guzzling luxury that none of us can afford to continue. We conceived Airo to re-imagine the lifestyle-car-environment balance." The model is scheduled to go into production in 2023. Heatherwick Studio has also thought about charging points: with retractable cables, ergonomically shaped handles and an industrial aesthetic, these could be incorporated into the cityscape in the years to come.

Designing "Airo" by Heatherwick Studio