It's probably the one toy that's proven, again and again, to be fun for all ages. Grown-up Lego-maniacs, which include artists, musicians and engineers, can spend as much as 20 hours a week snapping together extravagant creations like this 43-foot long X-Wing Fighter replica. Some clever AFOLs (Adult Fans of Legos), as they've been whimsically referred to, have even gone on to create more functional objects. Christina Stephens, an amputee, showed watchers on YouTube how she built a Lego prosthetic leg.
The Lego Group, recognizing the wider potential of its signature product, launched a series of Lego Mindstorm kits in the mid-90s to enable inventors and other tinkerers to apply the same assembling versatility to advanced fields such as robotics and computing systems. The kits, combined with smartphones, have since been used to develop sophisticated machines, such as a robotic pianist as well as a working 3D printer.
The triumph of Romanian AFOL Raul Oaida's air-powered Lego car falls somewhere in between something meant "just for kicks" and a practical prototype. Comprised of more than 500,000 Lego pieces, the yellow-and-black hot rod can be driven at speeds of up to 17 mph (check out the video). Bestowing the life-sized hot rod with true motorized capabilities involved constructing a propulsion system that links four orbital engines, which, altogether consist of 256 pistons. Somewhere within the plastic machinery is the fuel source, likely a canister that's designed to release compressed air to power the engine.
The video shows Oaida and his collaborator, Australian entrepreneur Steve Sammartino, cruising down a street in Melbourne at a much slower cruising speed than what the vehicle is supposedly capable of. Sammartino said that they didn't want to push the vehicle to go any faster because, as he writes on his YouTube account, “We drive it slow as [we] are scared of [a] giant [Lego] explosion.”
Tech blog ExtremeTech reasons that at higher speeds the fragile Lego pieces would likely succumb to the heat generated by the engine:
"Presumably there is a hard limit on how much air pressure the Lego cylinders can withstand, and thus how high the engine can rev. Or considering the blocks are almost certainly glued together, maybe the limiting factor is heat dissipation—those pistons, without any kind of real air or liquid cooling, are probably generating a fairly large amount of heat."
No one expects this experiment to spur any kind of commercialized technology, as the makers have said that the Super Awesome Micro Project was, from the start, nothing more than a hobbyist-driven campaign. In fact, after Sammartino started sending out tweets calling for funding, he would go on to inform prospective investors to not expect anything in return except taking pride in making something like this possible.
"There will be NO fiscal return on this," he wrote in the Super Awesome Micro Project prospectus. "Regard it as a techie/hacker community project where committed funds are philanthropic in nature. This project has high risk and may fail."
Oaida had previously received some notoriety in 2012 when he commemorated the end of the U.S. space shuttle program by launching a balloon-lifted Lego Space Shuttle to an altitude of more than 100,000 feet. For the car, he spent around $25,000 to piece together and ship it from Romania to Melbourne. While the vehicle was damaged by changes in temperature in transit, he was able to easily replace some of the warped parts.
"I built it once, so I knew I could fix anything that would be broken on it," Oaida said in a podcast interview.