Local Motors has created a new paradigm in the way vehicles are designed, engineered and produced. Everything about the company reeks of innovation, from the use of co-creation to making vehicles with a giant 3D printer.
Bob de Kruyff, vice president of engineering, explains to Auto Futures how Local Motors is innovating the design and manufacturing process and reveals some new features of the Olli autonomous shuttle.
Local Motors was founded in 2007 by Jay Rogers in Chandler, Arizona. Rogers’ background includes serving as commander in the US Marine Corps, an MBA from Harvard Business and working as a consultant and investment analyst.
“Jay Rogers had a vision, he hired people to make it possible and he challenges us to do things we thought were impossible,” says de Kruyff who has retired three times from various automotive engineering positions including engineering at GM, consulting, executive positions and work as the director of design and development controls for U-Haul.
“Local Motors hand-picked engineers from GM and FCA. We are all seasoned. Working in an environment like this, is like playing and being paid for having fun,” says de Kruyf.
Local Motors vehicles are made in microfactories that are self-contained units. Teams are co-located. The engineering team is on the first floor, the marketing team is on the second floor. To reach the production team on the other side of the wall, de Kruyff just walks across the building which speeds up the process of vehicle creation.
Microfactories can tailor vehicles for the area where the vehicles will be deployed. Vehicles made for Arizona may require greater air conditioning. In a colder climate the vehicles can be manufactured to deal better with ice and snow. There are two Local Motors microfactories one in Chandler, Arizona and the other in Knoxville, Tennessee where the giant 3D-printer is located.
“Currently there is a lot of interest from Europe,” says de Kruyff. He notes that Local Motors’ microfactories could be easily built in Europe, or the Middle East.
The main project Local Motors is working on is Olli, the first co-created, self-driving, electric and cognitive shuttle. The first version of Olli was a concept designed by community member Edgar Sarmiento, a young industrial designer from Columbia. He designed the shuttle as part of the online Urban Mobility Challenge and was first selected by community votes and then chosen as the winner by a panel of judges in 2015.
Since the first launch in 2016 Olli, has been deployed in multiple cities through Autonomous Vehicle Fleet Challenges. Olli vehicles can talk to passengers through a collaborative effort with IBM’s Watson. Autonomous features for Olli are powered through a partnership with Robotics Research. Other Local Motors partnerships include Goodyear, Velodyne, Autonomous Mobility, GE, HP, Airbus, Siemens and Shell.
“Our company has to partner because we’re small and we can’t be expected to do everything,” says de Kruyff.
Local Motors is currently working on the second generation Olli . Almost all of the body structure of all Olli will be 3D printed. The 3D printed material is a combination of plastic in carbon fibre is very strong and thick between 3/8 and a half an inch thick (9.5 mm- 12.7mm). The proprietary patented material is very hard to damage.
A regular drill can’t drill a hole in it, the motor burns out. Working with the material requires special tools. Since the material is black, for branding the vehicle, it is wrapped.
Olli 1 was about learning. The entire design of Olli has been re-imagined to be very open with a single door and air conditioner on the top, says de Kruff.
Another innovation with Olli 2 is wheel-mounted electric motors from Protean.
“It is very difficult for a wheel mounted motor to stay cool. Cooling is very important and it is integrated into the wheels also into the design” says de Kruyff, “We have one of the first wheel motors to come to market because we cool it through liquid cooling.”
Currently, Local Motors is in the process of manufacturing the new version of Olli which should be coming out at the end of August. There is only one thing slowing Local Motors down.
“Like all companies in the autonomous space in the United States, regulatory issues are slowing us down,” says de Kruyf.