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Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Polestar’s New EV Concept Comes With … a Boomerang Drone?

Polestar has a new all-electric roadster sports car concept that has a high chance of actually being made. To accompany this vehicle, called the O2, the company also has designed a drone that supposedly will launch from the rear of the car and film you as you drive. This drone has almost no chance of ever seeing the light of day. It would seem to be, quite literally, a flight of fancy. 

Let's start with the more credible stuff. The O2 is the second concept car from Polestar, after the Precept from 2020. The full-electric car is a hard-top convertible with a “2+2” seating arrangement—this means the rear seats will be a snug fit for anyone over 8 years old.

The body will be made from the bonded aluminum platform that has been developed by Polestar for the Precept, which is now in production as the Polestar 5. This bonded architecture does away with the 3,500 to 4,000 rivets normally used in traditional manufacturing of a body shell as metal sheets are clamped together, and replaces it with adhesive and oven curing instead. 

The main advantage is supposedly better rigidity, and while this process is not entirely new to car production, Polestar say its UK-based R&D team has found a way to make this work in a mass-manufacturing context, when before it was deemed labor-intensive and suitable mainly for low-volume performance cars. Additionally, Polestar says this process allows for a greater degree of design flexibility, so adjustments for different wheelbases, for example, can apparently be done with comparative ease.

Polestar also claims its bonded aluminum architecture is geared towards dynamic driving, with tight handling the result of small roll angles and high roll damping, as well as agile steering. We'll know if this is the case when the Polestar 5 arrives following its 2024 production date.

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Further details about the concept car are scant. As you can see from the pictures, the angular design continues the company's overall aesthetic. The low and wide body with minimal overhangs and a long wheelbase mirrors classic sports car proportions, but Polestar hopes it will go head to head with the continually delayed Tesla Roadster, first unveiled way back in 2017.

While the 4.65-meter-long car will supposedly use the same battery as the coming Polestar 5, aerodynamics are used to maximize the O2's unspecified range with “disguised” design features, including integrated ducts to improve air flow over the wheels and body sides, and rear lights that function as air blades to reduce turbulence behind the car.

This being a Polestar, even if only a concept, sustainability was inevitably going to feature. Here, a thermoplastic mono-material—made from a single material without any mixed fibers and so easier to recycle—is employed in much of the interior. It's been used as the sole material for all the soft components: foam, adhesive, 3D-knit fibers, and non-woven lamination. Additionally, the different grades of aluminum used in the construction will be labeled, so they can be recycled more easily and efficiently. 

Now let's turn to the far less credible drone. Polestar's engineers have developed a specialized airfoil that rises behind the rear seats to create a “calm area” of negative pressure that would allow the drone to take off when the car is on the move.

Once in flight, the drone would then operate autonomously, following the car at speeds up to 56 mph. Using the main cabin touchscreen, the driver can choose between an “atmospheric” sequence ("great for a coastline cruise") or an “action” sequence with “a sportier expression,” whatever that means.

After filming, the drone would then return to the car, where video clips can be edited and shared directly from the 15-inch center display once the car is parked. The whole thing sounds like the automotive equivalent of a mirrored ceiling.

China's Zhejiang Geely Holding Group owns Polestar, along with other car brands such as Lotus and Volvo, and many other companies in other sectors. One of these is the drone maker Aerofugia, formed in 2017 out of a merger between Geely and US-based Terrafugia, developer of those hideous flying cars. Aerofugia’s consumer brand, Hoco Flow, a brand for which I can find no online information, has apparently worked with Polestar on the design of this mobile launching drone, intended to “record the perfect driving sequence.” 

I asked if Polestar also has a prototype of the drone to go with its physical version of the O2, and what its confirmed capabilities were, such as flight time and collision avoidance system. I was told that the company had “not gone that far at this stage in terms of functionality, and there are no prototypes.”

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We've been here before. Remember Ford wanting to launch a drone from the back of a truck? It even went as far as to patent the idea of a “quadcopter-style device” being deployed from a vehicle after showing off some tech at CES 2016 in partnership with DJI. This hasn't materialized. And Polestar's flying folly likely won't either.

Steve Wright, senior research fellow in avionics and aircraft systems at the University of the West of England, has an expertise in unmanned air vehicles. He and his students design, build, and test all manner of drones. He is skeptical of Polestar's cinematic drone, and that's putting it mildly. 

“We've been rolling around in hilarity at how impossible that drone is to make work like they claim,” he says. “I believe that Polestar can launch a drone off the back of a moving car. I even am prepared to believe that they can land a drone on the back of the car again and put it away. But the engineers that developed that drone clearly know a lot of things I don't. There are laws of physics being bent there.”

“First thing wrong with it is that the props are too small,” Wright says. “In drones, big is beautiful for rotors. As soon as you go to really titchy props, everything goes wrong. The next problem is that it's got circular ducts around the rotors. Ducts look amazing, but they're an absolute pain. They cause lots of drag. So when they're trying to get along at 90 kilometers an hour it will just start guzzling energy.”

Wright then goes on to question the battery capacity of Polestar's cine drone. “There's a tiny little box in the middle of it. That would probably fly for about 10 seconds—and I know this because I made one to a similar spec, and it flies for about 10 seconds at that speed.”

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“Look, I believe they can make a drone and launch it from a car and recover it again. But it's not going to look anything like the one in their video," Wright says. “The wretched thing is, I really, really want it to work. I want a sports car to launch a drone that chases me down the road. I am just frustrated that I can't have one yet.”

So, while it is likely we won't be getting anything remotely resembling the cine drone in the near future, the good news is that the prospects for Polestar's competitor to the Tesla Roadster are far rosier. It was the public's positive reaction to the Precept that galvanized the company's executives to put it into production as the Polestar 5. Now CEO Thomas Ingenlath wants to do the same thing again with the O2. “This is just a taste of what we can design and engineer,” he says. 


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