Autonomous Omphalos Hydrogen-Propelled Concept Sucks Microplastics From Our World

Omphalos Concept 16 photos
Photo: Cheolhee Lee
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Some of the best concepts out there solve problems we never even knew we were facing. Such is the case with the topic of today's discussion, a hydrogen-propelled, microplastic-collecting cargo carrier to be used in airports and around town. This is the story of Omphalos.
According to the designer behind the Omphalos, Cheolhee Lee, a resident of South Korea, one of the largest causes of microplastics in our world is tire wear. Well, that got me thinking, and so I embarked upon a journey of research, and according to Nokian Tyres, "Wear particles from tire and road materials are the second largest primary source. Together, these primary sources form 15-31% of the microplastics in the oceans, that is, less than one-third." That's just in our world's oceans, not including the atmosphere. Well, the Omphalos is designed to help solve this problem with an array of microplastic-collecting systems, and its hydrogen propulsion only adds to its existing environmental contributions.

Just a bit of off-topic info, Omphalos (meaning navel) is also the name of a Greek religious artifact symbolizing the area of Delphi; there are gods and eagles and the ends of the Earth in that story, so don't expect it to make a whole lot of sense. As for the Omphalos concept, let's dive in, shall we?

One of the main settings where the designer sees this concept hard at work is at an airport. This is partly because the Omphalos is also created to simply carry cargo from terminal to terminal or between logistics hubs. That part is simple enough and doesn't require much grey matter power to grasp.

Omphalos Concept
Photo: Cheolhee Lee
Well, things get a bit more complicated once we consider how this concept cleans plastics from our air and ground. The entire base for this collection system starts with the wheels. Yes, Lee has created special tires that simply pick up debris from our roads as they move along.

It's not clear what material those 12 tires are built out of, but special grooves in the tire kick up plastic particles, and a vent hole in the center of the wheel – with a rather fan blade-like hub cap – sucks in the particles. Lee also considered that greater cargo loads will help pick up more plastics than lighter loads as the grooves can scoop up plastics and rubber with greater efficiency. Makes sense if you ask me.

As a side note, this wheel system is actually called the Pureback Nexen Tire, a project of which Lee was a part. This tire concept was even featured on a tech show from the UK. Talk about potential.

Ok, so it's hydrogen-based – not much information on that system – and the Omphalos collects plastic particles from the road and air. What then? I mean, what do we do with all that plastic? First of all, the debris that's aspirated into the machine is all stored in those containers mounted into the side of the central module of the vehicle. But what are we to do with all that junk in those trunks? Lee makes no mention of how those storage bays are unloaded and emptied, but it's just an idea, so some details haven't been worked out yet.

Pureback Nexen Tire
Photo: Cheolhee Lee
This is where a solid business model would typically be needed. If such a concept ever makes it into the real world, the company operating a fleet of these will need to be primed and ready to collaborate with local and even international recycling facilities. From there, it's back into the production cycle for those materials, resulting in new vehicle interiors, cell phone cases, lighters, pens, and possibly new tires. Sounds like a legit life cycle.

As for the rest of this machine's capabilities, they're all based around logistics and cargo transportation. Each of the end modules of the Omphalos is used to store goods and packages delivered in ports of airport hubs. But, as you can clearly see, there isn't a single human operating the dang thing, except maybe loading it up.

All that's made possible because this concept is also envisioned as being autonomous, and with an array of hardware, software, and possibly AI, this transport vehicle is able to safely maneuver through town without anything more than a human perhaps monitoring all units in transit in case something doesn't go according to plan.

Omphalos Concept
Photo: Cheolhee Lee
That's all theory, though, but in fact, we aren't very far off from such a reality at the moment. Already there are towns and cities where companies are experimenting, even implementing autonomous delivery vehicles to bring you your latte, bike parts and parcels, and even sweep the streets. Let's not talk about farming; that industry has been subject to autonomous machines for years.

Sure, the styling that Lee has chosen for this concept is one that's very minimal and futuristic and does have hydrogen propulsion thrown into the mix, so we may never see this actual concept anytime soon, possibly never, but it can still serve the purpose of inspiring current and future vehicle designers to create machines that don't just pollute, but actively contribute to a cleaner world.

However, this idea has already been unveiled through YUID Online Exhibition Degreeshow, a group aimed at showcasing concepts that cause us to look at things a bit differently, and I can say the Omphalos has forced me to ask myself some serious questions about what's happening outside my window.
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About the author: Cristian Curmei
Cristian Curmei profile photo

A bit of a nomad at heart (being born in Europe and raised in several places in the USA), Cristian is enamored with travel trailers, campers and bikes. He also tests and writes about urban means of transportation like scooters, mopeds and e-bikes (when he's not busy hosting our video stories and guides).
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