When you hear Clarkson and Co discussing the latest 4×4, you would be forgiven for thinking that the Top Gear team is about to blow another £100,000 of the TV licence payer's money on a trip to the Arctic or the Himalayas. Not so with the coolest new 4×4 in town. KitGuru sneaks under the security fence at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology for a peak.
With the best part of 2 billion Swiss Francs at their disposal, the boffins at EMPA (Eidgenössische Materialprüfungs- und Forschungsanstalt) can afford to buy as much Toblerone as anyone could eat in a few thousand lifetimes. But they don't blow their Francs on chocolate or Swiss Army knives. Nope. Instead they push all the various scientific experts they can find into a room, and no one is allowed out until they have invented the unimaginable.
Tough call, but the Swiss take this stuff seriously – and they have some pretty impressive results to show for their efforts. The latest of which is the world's smallest, functional, 4×4 vehicle.
It's noiseless, emission-free and is the size of a single molecule.
Recharging this beauty requires a mere touch from a scanning tunnelling microscope. You know, the kind we've all found at the bottom of a cereal box.
How far will it go on this ‘tank full of electricity'? Right now, just half a revolution of the wheels. But that does not mean that design enhancements won't increase the range of this unusual 4×4 in the future.
While it is, technically, a 4×4 – the actual car measures only 4 nano metres by 2. So, in the cause of accuracy, this is a 4 by 2, 4 by 4.
The Top Gear team working on this project includes researchers Karl Heinz Ernst and Manfred Parschau. When asked about the range and service interval, they confessed that the nano car had only managed a journey of 6 nano metres so far – but were keen to point out that it was ‘in roughly a straight line'.
The research group have been keen to point out that the key focus for their work is to show that individual molecules can absorb external electrical energy and transform it into targeted motion. Next step? Hitting things with ultra violet lasers to make em move.
KitGuru says: We can laugh, but there could be huge applications for this kind of technology 10-20 years in the future. If part of nano technology's promise was to move in mighty leaps – and to shock us with its applications – then it's already succeeded. Nanoscopic 4×4 cars? Well done EMPA, well done!
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