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State of the 'Art'

Wrapped in wave inspired bodywork, featuring PPG paint, the uber-cool Azaris is a rolling artwork that showcases a revolutionary new drive system and suspension design.

Like it or not, the days of the Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) are numbered. Although fossil fuel burners will survive for a little while yet, automotive brands across the globe are busy gearing up to release an avalanche of electric and autonomous vehicles that are already sounding its death knell. One of the unexpected consequences is that vehicle designers suddenly get unprecedented freedom. With no need to package an ICE and its associated hardware, vehicle architecture has the potential to look very different to the way it has for the past century.


When it comes to spectacular, unconventional styling, it’s hard to go past the Azaris. Indeed, it was created by Perth based start-up, Ferox, specifically to grab attention. Never intended as a production vehicle, Azaris is actually a handmade piece of automotive artwork aimed at introducing the world to a selection of ground-breaking technologies, according to company CEO – Director, Troy Wheeler.


“Thanks to the transformation in vehicle architecture, which is being driven by electric vehicles and autonomous technologies, we saw the opportunity to apply our in-house developed technologies to what we call ‘liberating the wheel’. It’s about removing any restrictions on where or how drive wheels are placed on a future vehicle and the type of suspension system that could be used. One of the core Ferox technologies is a brand new classification of pump and motor that is driven by a solution of 95% water, with 5% additives, and it has been about 40 years in the making. We have known about its opportunities in vehicles for some time but what we have done is pick our timing. You can have a brilliant idea but if the market is not ready for it at that moment, it can sink. We have waited for there to be enough disruption in the automotive industry where a door opened to new, non-conventional technologies.”


Technology masterclass

What Troy is referring to is the revolutionary in-hub fluid drive motors. Where conventional hydraulics are high pressure (3,000psi to 15,000psi), hot, jerky and inefficient, the Ferox fluid motors operate at a much lower pressure (200psi to 1500psi), are incredibly smooth, responsive and efficient (as much as 98%) and deliver high start-up torque in a similar way to an electric motor. Packaged neatly into the hub of each of the four rear wheels, the compact fluid motors are happy to move in forward or reverse and can be used to harvest energy when braking. They can also be scaled up to power something as large as the huge tippers seen in the mining sector. For convenience, the fluid pump in the Azaris is driven by a BMW R1200 GS motorcycle engine but Troy sees electric power as the ideal fit in the long term.


Look at the rear of the Azaris and you notice something odd. There are no conventional differentials or drive shafts to any of the rear wheels. Indeed, getting power to the four wheels would be fiendishly difficult to do without Ferox’s other key technology, the ‘DNA arms’ suspension system which also happens to provide a remarkably smooth ride. Troy says it allows the Azaris to track smoothly across the bumps and potholes of the terrain like surfing a wave – an apt description given the fluid motor drivetrain. Cleverly, the fluid lines to drive the motors are actually encased inside each suspension arm which protects them from the elements and external damage.


Look at me!

In theory, the Ferox technology could have been retrofitted to an existing car, however it would not have looked that different, says Troy. A key focus of the project was to make a statement with an appearance that people simply could not ignore.


“Part of the initial brief was that, even when it was standing still, the Azaris should have a real presence that created a commotion and really enticed people to look. It also had to have a fluidity in its design elements that highlighted the fluid drivetrain. Part of that was creating a lot of negative space that reveals the technology. For example, we purposefully punched a hole through the middle of the vehicle so you could see there were no differentials or driveshafts.”


“Some people thought we were a bit crazy to invest the time, energy and money into paint but the first thing you notice about any vehicle is its colour. We discovered Adam and Jason Harvey at Como Panel & Paint, here in Perth, and they have gone above and beyond to assist throughout the project. They put us in touch with PPG who were keen to help. Richard Harvey, a Colour Technologist at PPG in Melbourne, worked closely with Minh from our team who was overseeing colour and trim.”


Richard Harvey was able to use PPG’s full arsenal of tools to provide unique solutions. “For over a decade I developed colours for local vehicle manufacturers so this was quite similar. Working with the Ferox team, we came up with a paint concept that gave the feel of a wave in motion. To do this I formulated a three-layer blue, a hematite colour and contrasting silver, along with finishes that varied from satin to full gloss. I have not seen colours like these in OEM so they are quite unique.”


The Ferox team were over the moon with the results, says Troy. “I really appreciate the support from the entire PPG team, the quality of work and the paint – it’s PPG’s ENVIROBASE® High Performance waterborne which is perfectly in tune with the whole fluidic theme of the Azaris. It looked absolutely amazing in Monaco, alongside the other exotic displays.”


Thinking outside the box

Interestingly, the project’s biggest challenge was not the task of developing the mind-bogglingly complex technology, according to Troy.


“To me, the biggest challenge for any project like this is finding the right people. I am proud to say that the core engineering all the way through to the visuals of this vehicle have been created by a unique team that pushed the boundaries as far as we possibly could with the resources we had. This vehicle was literally built from computer screen to reality in one shot which is a very rare feat.”


“Being a start-up, we work primarily with contract-based staff and keep a tight core of stakeholders and a small fulltime team. In terms of skillsets, I guess we see engineering a bit more loosely than in the common workplace. Rather than pigeonhole our team members, we encourage them to cross between the various fields – engineering, industrial design, surfacing, etc – and remove traditional limitations. It’s interesting – you get a very different perspective from non-academic based engineers that really helps come up with some of these very creative solutions that, maybe, a more traditionally trained engineer might not have thought of. For example, the process of creating the DNA arm structures for the rear suspension. We provided guidance to an industrial designer and he came up with the unique concept of the ‘double helix’ structure.”


The world stage

One of the biggest issues facing Ferox is simply that it’s a small company, relatively isolated from the rest of the world. Revealing the Azaris late in 2018 changed that, says Troy. “For the first five years, it was very hard to get meetings with companies potentially interested in the technology because we were not visible. When we unveiled Azaris I called the team at the CarAdvice website and later got a call from the newatlas.com who cover new technology and science. If it was not for them taking the time to look at and report on our vision we would not be where we are now. Nowadays, we tend to at least get an opportunity to meet with people and show them our technology. Through that there are opportunities to license the technology and apply it to a number of different industries, such as earth moving and defence.”


“We were also surprised by an invitation from Top Marques Monaco, held in June 2019. It was a great opportunity to appear on a global stage and the Azaris was displayed right at the main entrance as one of the show’s flagship vehicles. Although the Azaris was not made for production, with the interest we have had there could be a limited run of vehicles. When you think about it, the things that carry the most value in the world are actually art pieces and those that hinge on exceptional technology are even more valuable. Custom paint colours would be a key part and we would love to work with PPG to explore future opportunities. In the meantime, Ferox intends to remain at the very pointy end of vehicle architecture and evolution as we move into robotics. We already have more ideas so watch this space!”




In the genes

After spending a very successful 14 years as a licenced financial adviser, Troy Wheeler felt it was time to chase his dreams. Indeed, inventing is literally in his genes.


“I am actually the third generation of my family involved in developing various technologies so I am standing on the shoulders of those who came before me. My grandfather and father were both passionate about inventing, including some very cool base technology which we call the ‘Wheeler Technology’ and that includes the fluid drivetrain. I have wanted to do this since I was 13 years-old and five years ago I was able to transition from the wealth management sector and create Ferox. My particular skillset is the ability to bring together the people and vision in a way that showcases the technology.”