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Made out of thin air

Assam’s own Phunsukh Wangdu has created a car that runs on air and is also building a small personal flying machine like the one in 3 Idiots. Read on to know all about this self-made automobile genius.

india Updated: Oct 06, 2010 15:01 IST
Aalap Deboor

Talks about Tata launching a car that runs on compressed air may have lost steam. But an automobile designer from Guwahati has had a prototype ready for a while. It’s a car he built in his backyard, even though he’s never worked for an automobile company, or had training in engineering. In fact, Kanak Gogoi is a real estate consultant who dropped out of college after his matriculation exams in 1980-81. Among other jobs, he has worked as a milk delivery boy and signboard painter.

College dropout
Today, at 49, Gogoi is a self-taught automobile prodigy who has made a low-water boat, gravity-operated bicycle, hang glider and a device for speed breakers that generates electricity. His story bears a striking similarity to that of Phunsukh Wangdu in 3 Idiots. But Gogoi hasn’t even watched the movie yet. “As a child, I did things on my own, in my way. I never got the chance to go to engineering college, so I decided to start building from whatever knowledge I had,” he says.

Gogoi started out in 1997 by designing a hang glider, and then went on to build a hovercraft. In 2004, he made an air car from unused machines in his scrap yard and named it Pavan X. He followed it up in 2005 with a gravity-operated bicycle, which used mechanical energy from the rider to propel the bike. “Tata was supposed to tie up with a French company to roll out an air car. I thought if they could do it, so could we,” Gogoi says.

The air car uses pressurised air from a compressor to run a piston engine, which is made up of standard market parts and is assembled by Gogoi. The bicycle works on a simpler principle — it uses the displacement of the rider’s seat to propel the bike through a coil spring mechanism. In November 2009, the National Innovation Foundation learnt about Gogoi and felicitated him at a ceremony in Delhi in the presence of President Pratibha Patil. “It was the first time I met the President. I still can’t forget that day,” he says.

No regrets
Gogoi has already spent quite a fortune on his passion. But he has no regrets. “You need to be crazy to spend your money chasing after your dreams. If I’d just stuck to working, I’d be a millionaire. But I chose the real estate profession so I’d have both the money and time to innovate,” he says. However, he does wish the government would bring out initiatives to promote the work of small town innovators. “I get lots of letters from people abroad and it feels nice to see that your work is being appreciated. Journalists know what I’ve been doing, but people in my own village sometimes don’t,” he says.

The NIF also helped him get the intellectual property rights to his innovations. But he has never thought of commercially marketing his machines. “I don’t have the resources to make my products viable for the market; they’re prototypes that need refinement. But I’d be more than willing to share my technique,” he says.

Gogoi’s currently working on a few new projects, but still spends most of his time trying to improve the air car. He’s also building a small personal flying machine. “It's like the one in 3 Idiots, people tell me. It can fly up to 6-7 feet high,” he says.