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Sofas: Not just something to sit on

When we think of a sofa, we tend to think of it being in situ in a particular living space. We may have different ideas about what a sofa should be made of, how it should look and how it should be placed within any given space, but generally we assume that sofas are for one thing; sitting on.

Soon, that universal assumption may have to change.

In September, a team of engineers took a brown leather couch and transformed it into something quite different, breaking a world record in the process. They took the two-seater couch, added a coffee table and the obligatory fruit bowl and then used them as the basis for a sofa that would potentially break the world speed record for a piece of household furniture.

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If that sounds a tad strange, then it is worth remembering that an Englishman held the previous world record; Marek Turowski set the best top speed for a sofa back in 2007.

The contraption was courtesy of a team of designers and engineers at Add a Motor To It. Taking on board the mantra in their company name, they added a motor, some wheels, pedals and a steering mechanism to develop the sofa. Once the construction of the motorised sofa was complete, they managed to set a new top speed of 163 kph (101 mph) during runs on the runway at Camden Airport, Sydney.

Paul McKinnon, who helped construct the fastest sofa in the world, said: “It’s the oddest vehicle we’ve ever built.”

The addition of a coffee table is an interesting point in the design; indeed, it seems counterintuitive to add weight and mass to the sofa, when you are attempting to reach high speed. However, as Mr McKinnon pointed out, the coffee table served an ingenious purpose:

“With race cars, you can use the aerodynamic body kit, but with the couch it was a matter of just doing what we could. We tried to break the airflow with the coffee table,” he explained.

This isn’t the first time that such a vehicle has been built; in November 2008, a British inventor called Edd China unveiled his sofa vehicle at that year’s Classic Motor Show at the NEC in Birmingham. Named the Casual Lofa, the vehicle was, at the time, the only street-legal sofa in the world.

Mr China’s creation had many innovative features that you are unlikely to find in the showrooms of many car manufacturers; these included a pizza pan steering wheel, a drinks can to operate the brakes, a chocolate bar to change gears, indicators in two flowerpots, and lastly, a speedometer hidden inside a clock. In addition, in 2010 students at Brigham Young University incurred the wrath of university officials when they built a motorised sofa to use as transport around campus. Using a broken wheelchair and two 12-volt car batteries, Nick Homer and Stewart Clyde initially used their vehicle to get around the university site to the delight of fellow students. Unfortunately, the enterprising duo were subsequently banned from doing so by officials, who pointed out motorised vehicles were not allowed on campus.

If you don’t fancy installing an engine to power your sofa, there are other alternatives. In Lisbon a major telecommunications company organised a sofa racing contest to allow contestants to win tickets to a rock music festival. Competitors were given a sofa on a set of wheels and raced the vehicle around the course by pushing it.

It seems the days when living room furniture was merely something that sat immobile in your front room may now be at an end, but it seems a fair guess that buyers are unlikely to use horse power ratings and fuel efficiency calculations as a primary reason for buying their choice of sofa!