As a leading pioneer in the space of 3D-printed autonomous vehicles, Local Motors is poised to help transform the entire business model for electric vehicles, while helping to drive the wider adoption of the technology. Since its inception, Local Motors has debuted no less than three world firsts; the world’s first co-created vehicle, the world’s first 3D-printed car and the world’s first co-created, self-driving, electric vehicle, Olli.
During a recent Q&A with Ride, Local Motors President Vikrant Aggarwal discusses some of the vast and growing benefits of its 3D-printed EV Olli shuttle as well as some of the challenges associated with expanding the technology.
Q: The cornerstone of Local Motors electric vehicles is the company’s 3D printing process, which presents a unique challenge in itself, given that the average consumer tends to know very little about the technology. What do you think is the biggest misconception about 3D-printed vehicles?
A: I think people still can’t fully comprehend that we can bring 80 percent (3D printing) per shuttle. People tend to think that 3D printing can be used, but more for parts or for components. There is (also) a perception that (3D printing) doesn’t’ have the strength…flexibility and durability that a non 3D-printed shuttle has, which is nothing further from the truth.
Q: How is Local Motors working to address those misconceptions?
A: The best way to address that is to have people experience the shuttle itself. We are deploying Olli shuttles in Asia, Europe and the U.S. And when people ride in them, they gain confidence…(in) the product and the… technology. It’s a combination of us talking about it, but also people riding the shuttles.
Local Motors President Vikrant Aggarwal says the Olli shuttle represents the evolution of the company’s 3D-printed vehicle technology. (Photo: Local Motors)
Q: How does Local Motors’ 3D-printing technology help to address some of the challenges associated with electric vehicle production?
A: I would use the word opportunity. I think the opportunity is more different whether you’re 3D printing an electric vehicle or a non-electric vehicle. It’s much more economically energy efficient. It’s (also) easier to make changes to the product.
Q: The Olli started as a vehicle which was about 30 percent 3D printed. The vehicle is now 80 percent 3D printed. What has Local Motors learned during that evolution?
A: The key thing is that process control is extremely important, because you are dealing with a huge printer. So, how you control the parameters, how you manage them (and) how you do quality control is extremely important, from an operations standpoint.
If you look at traditional automotive models, it’s a five to seven-year process to go from one model to the other, and hundreds of millions of dollars of investments. But from a 3D printing perspective, we went from the older version of Olli to the newer version in one year. Even though the 3D printing journey started many years ago, the design change happened in one year.
Local Motors currently operates two micro-factories, including one in Knoxville, TN and another in Chandler, AZ. (Photo: Local Motors)
Q: A significant part of Local Motors’ electric vehicle production strategy lies in the company’s micro-factories. How do these micro-factories benefit Local Motors’ overall 3D production strategy?
A: We don’t need hundreds of acres to open a factory. We have to invest five times less and do it quicker. Our goal is to open micro-factories where it makes sense, and when it makes sense, it should be done in a period of 12 months.
Q: Clearly, safety remains a primary concern when discussing any kind of autonomous vehicle technology. As a company centered around 3D printed vehicles in the autonomous space, how is Local Motors working to ease those concerns?
A: We’ve completed hundreds of thousands of rides across the globe. Once you sit in those shuttles, ride them, the experience you get speaks for itself. The second is you rely on test data…that shows how it is safe. The third is you go through technical discussions with people to give them a sense of the safety of the shuttles. You can demonstrate that it is a safe and reliable product.
To give customers a sense of satisfaction, our shuttles are (operated as) drive-by-wire. So, the safety steward in our shuttle, if they need to move it from an autonomous mode to a manual mode, they are able to do that very quickly.
Q: How does Local Motors’ collaborative approach to its electric vehicle development and production help the company’s overall strategy?
A: When you bring minds together it is more effective. Also, you are designing a product that needs to meet the needs of the user rather than your perceptions as the designer of what the end-user may need. It’s much more wholistic, much more inclusive and it is quicker.
We have to offer the end-users what they need and want rather than what we think they need and want. In the new mobility world that we are entering, I think the need for a model like this is very high. As we deploy our shuttles around the globe, I think cocreations will be very important in helping us to bring (mobility) solutions to market quicker.
Local Motors is focused on providing commuters with a more well-rounded autonomous electric vehicle experience. (Photo: Local Motors)
Q: Are there any limitations to 3D-printed electric vehicles, when compared to other 3D vehicles? If so, what are they? And what is Local Motors doing to be able push the technology beyond those limitations?
A: I think one of the biggest is the evolution of the technology, how it develops and how it can be deployed in a much broader network. Let’s say that someone wants to make a 50-passenger shuttle, how would we use 3D printing? I don’t think they are limitations. I think they are learning, learning the technology as it evolves and learning how you deploy that technology in different sizes and segments of the applications.
As an example, I suspect that three years ago, if someone said, ‘we’re going to 3D print a shuttle like Olli,’ which carries 8 people, some people would have said, ‘no way.’ That’s the progressive attitude we’ve taken.
Q: How do you see Local Motors fitting into the overall ecosystem of mobility in the future?
A: Our vision is, and we’re striving to get there, is (to) offer a mobility experience that is for everybody. What I mean by that is, you’re just not riding a product. You are in a shuttle and it brings you an experience. It enhances productivity. It makes the ride easier. It makes the journey smoother. It makes your ride more efficient.
If you were watching a show at home and you’re (now) sitting an Olli, how do you continue to watch that program? How do you work in an Olli and have a meeting? Our goal is to let people enjoy the experience, whether they want to watch a game, whether they want to listen to a music or whether they want to be communicating with folks, so your time is more productive. It also will be combination of air to ground, ground to air mobility. Our focus is to provide mobility solutions, including first and last mile solutions, for people around the world.
[Note: Elements of this Q&A have been condensed and edited for clarity.]