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The USA demonstrated a self-driving 3D-printed bus
Source: Local Motors

The USA demonstrated a self-driving 3D-printed bus

The USA-based startup Local Motors that once caused a stir with Rally Fighter, their off-road coupe, has demonstrated another automotive masterpiece. Having sharpened 3D-printing skills, the startup team designed and created a working prototype of Olli, an composite electric minibus.

The bus design being compared with a phone booth by some reviewers is worthy of note for several reasons. Firstly, this bus has been 3D-printed. Secondly, its parts can be subjected to recycling. Thirdly, it doesn’t need a driver, because it is equipped with an autonomous self-driving system.

Local Motors refers to the vehicle as a shuttle because it is able to transport up to 12 people from location to location along a pre-set route. The bus can be called using an app or a kiosk. The plan is to use laser radar, cameras, and GPS-navigator making adjustments as needed to avoid collisions while moving along the route. The testing of Ollis will be monitored by a human overseer, and Local Motors states that it will assume liability in the case of an accident.

Olli uses IBM Watson’s cloud-based cognitive learning platform, to allow passengers to communicate with the minibus. In addition to taking route requests, Watson allows an Olli to answer questions about the vehicle’s design and function or suggest restaurants based on the destination.

Crowdsourcing is a key concept of Local Motors’ approach. That is how the company raised money for the Rally Fighter development. However, the shuttle minibus has been completely developed in-house. In addition to 3D-printed composite parts, aluminum and steel parts are used in the bus design. At present, Olli’s speed cannot exceed 25 mph, but the developers plan to eventually overcome this threshold. Local Motors promotes their project to places like university campuses and airports and similar places.

Currently, only a few copies of Olli exist, one of them is ready to ride guests around Local Motors’ new production facility in Maryland. By the end of the year, the company plans to have four vehicles operating in Denmark, two in Miami-Dade, County Florida, and a single one in Las Vegas.

The USA demonstrated a self-driving 3D-printed bus

Source: Local Motors

But all is not as rosy as it may seem. The developers don’t deny the shuttle buses are vulnerable to hacking, though they claim that the vehicle’s steering and braking are separate, off-line components. However, the story of Olli and Local Motors is not about vehicles but about the ability to regard old problems from a new angle.

Let’s start with the fact that we cannot consider the task of making both self-driving and 3-D printed vehicles as completely impossible. Self-driving vehicles have become a key issue for research for dozens of large and small companies, not to mention enthusiasts. Both business and government agencies allocate money to support this issue. For example, the European Commission has allocated 800 million euros to develop the similar project.

3D-printing has taken so great leap forward over the past five years that nobody could imagine at the outset of the technology. Nowadays, there are industrial 3-D printers using fiber-reinforced plastics, as well as novel types of mineral fibers, such as basalt fiber that was used by German engineering bureau EDAG to create a vehicle allowing for the cost of 3-D printing to be sharply reduced without loss of strength and durability of the finished structure. The task of Local Motors was only to make a useful seamless mix out of these components.

The USA demonstrated a self-driving 3D-printed bus

Source: Local Motors

Designing and production process of Olli is also noteworthy. Although the company created the project in-house, they couldn’t completely reject the “crowding” idea. But Local Motors decided to use the idea of crowdsourcing to the utmost.

The design was developed by Edgar Sarmiento, the Colombian-born Italian car design student, who will earn royalties from his winning submission. Edgar explains: “This one is a public solution for cities. It’s simple, minimalistic, to make a shape like a box, and all of this related to the use of the product”.

To produce a great number of Ollis, the company is going to use microfactories, those are cleaner, smarter and more efficient factories of tomorrow, which can be installed close to consumers.

It takes about two weeks to make a shuttle bus from the ground up. In addition, technology providers see Local Motors as a way to get their products to market and are ready to carry on cooperation, explains Justin Fishkin, Local Motors’ Chief Strategic Officer.

Whether the product is perfect or not, nobody will find out about it without a working business model. Local Motors really has such a model!

Our business model is that we sell before we make, so we don’t have the inventory,

says Justin Fishkin.

Having collected an expansive network of crowdsourced contributors and addressing them essential issues, Local Motors takes its manufacturing concept beyond road vehicles, whether this be a drone design or cooperation with General Electric.

“This vehicle is the culmination. First we proved that you could put a car on the road by committee, which nobody said was possible (He means Rally  Fighter). Then we showed that you could crowdsource a military vehicle in two months and people thought we were a military vehicle company. We proved that digital manufacturing could be even faster. It just so happens that this is as relevant to the current demand on the market as it could be”.

About Olga Yurchenko

Olga Yurchenko
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