Fascinated by her scientific and material-focused approach towards design, Frame asked Marjan van Aubel to contribute to ‘The Challenge’. For Frame 118 we commissioned five makers to conceptualize and visualize their idea of the vehicle of the future. Marjan van Aubel suggests highly reflective car bodies that skyrocket through the limits of solar-powered mobility – literally.
What inspired your concept?
MARJAN VAN AUBEL: The Crookes radiometer, a glass bulb that contains a partial vacuum; vanes inside the mill rotate when exposed to light. The more light, the faster they spin. Cars are already operating on solar power, but I want to take solar technology a step further by converting light directly into movement.
What do you propose?
Cars made from an ultrathin, highly reflective material. Unlike solar panels, which convert one form of energy to another form of energy – light to electricity – this material converts the energy of the sun directly into movement.
When a photon from the sun hits the mirror-like body of the car, it will bounce off the surface and transfer its momentum to the solar car in the same way that a cue ball transfers its momentum when it strikes another ball in a game of pool.
What’s the material that makes this possible?
My concept is science fiction, but the material I envision is a combination of solar cells and a solar sail. It’s based on the solar sails that NASA uses to shoot satellites into space. You could compare it to the material used for sails on boats, which convert wind into speed. The same principle applies to solar wind, which is a stream of charged particles released from the sun’s upper atmosphere. Currently, it happens only in space or in a vacuum.
So car batteries will become obsolete?
Indeed. Energy from the sun doesn’t have to be stored in batteries.
There’s an added dimension to these cars, I believe.
Yes, they will be able to navigate in 3D, which basically means they can fly. Instead of staying on the road, a solar-powered vehicle that involves light-to-movement material will be able to move in three dimensions. Because I’m obsessed with the sky and with flying, this aspect of the concept is very important to me. Can you imagine flying through the beautiful colours high above us? It’s the ultimate dream of freedom. I believe a car should represent the feeling that you are in complete control and can go anywhere you want.
What excites you most about the concept?
The idea of converting sunlight, something available to everyone for free, into speed and mobility. We’ll be able to reach destinations easily and travel to places we couldn’t go before. And by using sunlight, we won’t damage the planet. If we want the planet to exist in 100 years, we have to make better use of natural resources.