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Mind

Science Fiction to Science Fact: Underwater Cars

Science Not FictionBy Eric WolffOctober 17, 2008 1:57 AM

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Ah, the beach episode, a classic of the 1980s crime fighter genre, brought to vivid life in last night's episode of Knight Rider

, when Mike Traceur must infiltrate a band of (what else?) surfing mercenaries to locate a missing secret agent. Fortunately, an episode on the beach creates a perfect opportunity to bust out what has to be one of the coolest, if not always the most useful, things a super car can do, which is go into submarine mode. In last night's episode a rocket actually blasted KITT off a cliff and into the water. Kitt's shielding protected Traceur and this week's sidekick, Zoe Chae, and he made a mid-air transformation to Aqua-KITT. Safe below the waves, Traceur and Chae pondered their next course of action.The episode got me wondering: Could we actually build a submarine car? As you can see from the video clip (skip ahead to 2:35 in the video): yes. The sQuba

, by Swiss auto maker Rinspeed, debuted at the Geneva Motor Show last March. It has a road speed of 75 mph, boat speed of 4 mph, and underwater speed of 2 mph. The car is naturally buoyant, so driving it into the water turns it into a boat with no transformation required. To dive, passengers simply open the door and let the water run in, though they would be wise to don the integrated SCUBA masks and mouthpieces first. Rinspeed's website said that to keep the car light enough to float, they had to make the water jets out of the current ultimate in futuristic materials, carbon nanotubes

. To top it off, the sQuba uses an electric motor, so it's a zero emissions vehicle. In case you're wondering, designer Frank Rinderknecht did create it specifically because he loved James Bond's Lotus Esprit

, from The Spy who Loved Me

. On the website, Rinderknecht said he designed an open vehicle so he wouldn't have to deal with the problem of trapped air. He said the added buoyancy would require an extra two tons of weight to sink the car, which would destroy the land-based performance. But somehow, an open-topped dive doesn't satisfy me. I'd need to wear a drysuit to keep my tuxedo safe when I arrived at the formal ball, you know? Maybe my best bet would be the personal submarine from U-Boat Worx

, a Dutch company. It has no land-based function at all, but for $570,000, I can buy a personal submersible, motor down to 100 meters below the surface, hang out for six hours watching the fishies, and be home in time for dinner. ETA: Corrections to pricing and locations of U-Boat Worx

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