3-D Printed Car Is as Strong as Steel, Half the Weight, and Nearing Production | Autopia | Wired.com

Engineer Jim Kor and his design for the Urbee 2. Photo: Sara Payne

Picture an assembly line not that isn’t made up of robotic arms spewing sparks to weld heavy steel, but a warehouse of plastic-spraying printers producing light, cheap and highly efficient automobiles.

If Jim Kor’s dream is realized , that’s exactly how the next generation of urban runabouts will be produced. His creation is called the Urbee 2 and it could revolutionize parts manufacturing while creating a cottage industry of small-batch automakers intent on challenging the status quo.

Urbee’s approach to maximum miles per gallon starts with lightweight construction – something that 3-D printing is particularly well suited for. The designers were able to focus more on the optimal automobile physics, rather than working to install a hyper efficient motor in a heavy steel-body automobile. As the Urbee shows, making a car with this technology has a slew of beneficial side effects.

Jim Kor is the engineering brains behind the Urbee. He’s designed tractors, buses, even commercial swimming pools. Between teaching classes, he heads Kor Ecologic, the firm responsible for the 3-D printed creation.

“We thought long and hard about doing a second one,” he says of the Urbee. “It’s been the right move.”

Kor and his team built the three-wheel, two-passenger vehicle at RedEye , an on-demand 3-D printing facility. The printers he uses create ABS plastic via Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM). The printer sprays molten polymer to build the chassis layer by microscopic layer until it arrives at the complete object. The machines are so automated that the building process they perform is known as “lights out” construction, meaning Kor uploads the design for a bumper, walk away, shut off the lights and leaves. A few hundred hours later, he’s got a bumper. The whole car – which is about 10 feet long – takes about 2,500 hours.

Photo: Sara Payne

Besides easy reproduction, making the car body via FDM affords Kor the precise control that would be impossible with sheet metal. When he builds the aforementioned bumper, the printer can add thickness and rigidity to specific sections. When applied to the right spots, this makes for a fender that’s as resilient as the one on your Prius, but much lighter. That translates to less weight to push, and a lighter car means more miles per gallon. And the current model has a curb weight of just 1,200 pounds.

To further remedy the issues caused by modern car-construction techniques, Kor used the design freedom of 3-D printing to combine a typical car’s multitude of parts into simple unibody shapes. For example, when he prints the car’s dashboard, he’ll make it with the ducts already attached without the need for joints and connecting parts. What would be dozens of pieces of plastic and metal end up being one piece of 3-D printed plastic.

“The thesis we’re following is to take small parts from a big car and make them single large pieces,” Kor says. By using one piece instead of many, the car loses weight and gets reduced rolling resistance, and with fewer spaces between parts, the Urbee ends up being exceptionally aerodynamic.” How aerodynamic? The Urbee 2′s teardrop shape gives it just a 0.15 coefficient of drag.

Not all of the Urbee is printed plastic — the engine and base chassis will be metal, naturally. They’re still figuring out exactly who will make the hybrid engine, but the prototype will produce a maximum of 10 horsepower. Most of the driving – from zero to 40 mph – will be done by the 36-volt electric motor. When it gets up to highway speeds, the engine will tap the fuel tank to power a diesel engine.

But how safe is a 50-piece plastic body on a highway?

“We’re calling it race car safety,” Kor says. “We want the car to pass the tech inspection required at Le Mans.”

The design puts a tubular metal cage around the driver, “like a NASCAR roll cage,” Kor claims. And he also mentioned the possibility of printed shock-absorbing parts between the printed exterior and the chassis. Going by Le Mans standards also means turn signals, high-beam headlights, and all the little details that make a production car.

To negotiate the inevitable obstacles presented by a potentially incredulous NHSTA and DOT, the answer is easy. “In many states and many countries, Urbee will be technically registered as a motorcycle,” Kor says. It makes sense. With three wheels and a curb weight of less than 1,200 pounds, it’s more motorcycle than passenger car.

No matter what, the bumpers will be just as strong as their sheet-metal equivalents. “We’re planning on making a matrix that will be stronger than FDM,” says Kor. He admits that yes, “There is a danger in breaking one piece and have to recreate the whole thing.” The safety decisions that’ll determine the car’s construction lie ahead. Kor and his team have been tweaking the safety by using crash simulation software, but the full spectrum of testing will have to wait for an influx of investment cash. “Our goal with the final production Urbee,” Kor says, “is to exceed most, if not all, current automotive safety standards.”

Kor already has 14 orders, mostly from people who worked on the design with him. The original Urbee prototype was estimated to cost around $50,000.

When the funding comes in, the head engineer is planning to take the latest prototype from San Francisco to New York on 10 gallons of gas, preferably pure ethanol. The hope is that the drive will draw even more interest. “We’re trying to prove without dispute that we did this drive with existing traffic,” Kor says. “We’re hoping to make it in Google [Maps’] time, and we want to have the Guinness book of world records involved.”


Autonomous taxi can be hailed with an iPad app

AutoNOMOS labs Spirit of Berlin driverless car

By Noel McKeegan

Not so long ago, the idea that a car could drive itself seemed mildly insane, but thanks to the impetus provided by the DARPA Urban Grand Challenge and ongoing research around the globe, driving might become a hobby rather than a necessity much sooner than you think. One of the pioneers in the field, the Berlin-based AutoNOMOS group unveiled its latest project earlier this year. Known as FU-X “Made in Germany” the tech-laden VW Passat uses GPS, video cameras, on-board laser scanners and radars to navigate autonomously, giving it the potential to be used as a driverless taxi cab. Its latest trick – you can now hail it with an iPad.

AutoNOMOS labs conducts research at the Freie Universität Berlin. Its aim is both to develop an unmanned vehicle navigation system that can co-exist on our roads with conventional cars and to explore potential uses for these systems.

One of the promising applications is for driverless taxis and the iPad demo is an extension of this system which showcases the benefits of the technology. Using the iPad, a “call” is made to the taxi and it immediately knows where you”re at. You can also follow the car”s progress as it makes its way to your location (no more ringing the taxi company to ask where that cab got to!) and use the iPad to tell it where you want to be dropped off.

The video below provides an overview of the iPad controlled “Pick me up!” system.

Follow link for video -> http://www.gizmag.com/autonomous-taxi-ipad/16649/

Fuel lets you make your own biodiesel at home easily and safely

By Shikha Chauhan

The continuously increase in fuel prices and their bad impact on the environment, has made us turned toward a better alternative and substitute well versed as biodiesel. Owing to their continuous demand in the market, Ben Guthrie offers a processor to make the biodiesel at home without much of chaos. Credited with the name “Fuel,” this personal biodiesel processor is completely safe and efficient to make alternate fuel source just within your room. It is even easier than doing a laundry and at the same time user-friendly too.

All you have to do so is pour the desired ingredients into the top and leave the rest on the processor. The automated pumps, heating elements and thermostats then perform the entire process. A display on the machine keeps you informed of the current status of biodiesel. Thanks to its pull-out tank that collects the waste glycerin, which may be easily transported and disposed of, or used for making soap. An entirely toxic free machine, Fuel demands nothing except for electrical source and water line, and gives in return efficient and user-friendly diesel.

More pictures of the system -> http://www.thedesignblog.org/entry/fuel-lets-you-make-your-own-biodiesel-at-home-easily-and-safely/

Robot cars invade California, on orders from Google

by Edward Moyer

Google has been testing self-driving cars on roads in California, according to a report, and so far they”ve avoided everything but a minor fender bender–caused by a human-driven car.

The New York Times reports that seven test cars have traveled 1,000 miles without need for human intervention (a driver has been stationed behind the wheel just in case, accompanied by a technician to monitor the navigation system), and that they”ve covered more than 140,000 miles with the human chaperone stepping in only occasionally. One of the cars was even able to safely make its way down Lombard Street in San Francisco, the fabled “crookedest street in the world,” the Times says.

''Stanley,'' devised by Sebastian Thrun and his team from Stanford, won the DARPA Grand Challenge in 2005.

”Stanley,” devised by Sebastian Thrun and his team from Stanford, won the DARPA Grand Challenge in 2005.

(Credit: Stefanie Olsen/CNET)

Google”s robot car is equipped with artificial-intelligence software; a rotating sensor on its roof, which can scan more than 200 feet in all directions to create a 3D map of the car”s environs; a video camera mounted behind the windshield, which helps the navigation system spot pedestrians, bicyclists, and traffic lights; three radar devices on the front bumper, and one in the back; and a sensor on one of the wheels that allows the system to determine the car”s position on the 3D map, the Times says. The car also features a GPS device and a motion sensor. The car follows a route programmed into the GPS system, and it can be instructed to drive cautiously, or more aggressively.

Engineers say robot cars aren”t susceptible to drowsiness or driving under the influence, and that eventually they might allow for more cars on the road, because they can drive closer to other vehicles, and less fuel consumption, because their safety would allow them to be made lighter, with less defensive armor, the Times says.

The man behind the project, Sebastian Thrun, a Google engineer and co-inventor of Google”s Street View mapping project, was also behind the autonomous auto that won the $2 million prize in the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency”s 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge, a contest to see if a driverless vehicle could successfully navigate nearly 150 miles in the California desert.

The Google researchers said that at the moment they don”t have a plan for marketing the system, the Times says. Thrun is a promoter of the idea of robot cars making roads safer and helping to cut down on energy costs, as is Google co-founder Larry Page, the Times reports.


GM''s Chevy Volt Bait and Switch: Volt is a Plug-in Hybrid, Not a True BEV

By Jason Mick

But Volt””s true nature may actually be an improvement, plus early reviews are complementary

In the week when auto editors turned in their first reviews of test drives of General Motors”” upcoming 2011 Chevy Volt, there””s been a bizarre twist that””s largely overshadowed these initial impressions.

In a wild twist, Larry Nitz, GM””s executive director of electric and hybrid powertrain engineering, has revealed that the gasoline engine actually will drive the Volt mechanically.

Previously, GM had maintained that the Volt was a battery electric vehicle (BEV).  When the battery””s 40-mile range (since revised to “25 to 50 miles”) was nearing exhaustion, a turbocharged 1.0-liter 3-cylinder gasoline engine kicked in, supply electrical current directly to the batteries and motor to provide more than 200 extra miles in range.

That platform was known as “E-Flex”.  But unbeknownst to anyone, GM was pulling a bait and switch.

Today, Mr. Nitz revealed that actual powertrain.  The Volt, it turns out, is not a BEV like the 2011 Nissan Leaf.  It is actually a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) like the 2012 Ford Focus or 2012 Toyota Prius EV.

The internal combustion engine (ICE) — now a 1.4L 84 hp 4-cylinder design — and the 149 hp permanent-magnet AC electric motor both feed into a planetary gear set and three electronically controlled, hydraulically activated multi-plate clutches.  The resulting automatic transmission is marvel of electro-mechanical engineering offering a blend of efficiency and power.  The entire powertrain is bolted together to minimize noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH) and reduce space usage.

Arguably this advanced transmission is much better for customers than what GM initially said it was offering.  As Ford Motor Company pointed out in our recent interview with their head of electrification, BEVs suffer from poor performance in cold or hot weather, as the battery””s performance deteriorates sharply. 

So why the bizarre farce on GM””s part in claiming its BEV was really a PHEV, when the actual design would be more beneficial to the majority of customers?  Mr. Nitz claims that GM had to deceive the public in order to secure its patents on its unique transmission.  Now with the patents in hand, he was free to go public with the new powertrain platform, dubbed “Voltec”, he says.

Turning to what GM had intended to be the focus this week, MotorTrend and The Detroit News have taken their first drives in the upcoming PHEV and are quite enthusiastic.

The Detroit News writes:

After I drove more than 32 miles on electric power only — in a very un-eco-friendly manner — the Volt’s little engine began powering the car. This was the moment I had been waiting for: It’s one thing to power a car with batteries, but it’s revolutionary to have a gas engine supply the power to electric motors.

The succession of power is more seamless than a presidential election. The engine is quiet and keeps humming along. There’s never a glitch, a pause or a moment when the engine noticeably kicks on or off. For the most part, once the initial battery charge is drained, the engine produces the electric power to drive the motor.

Most of all, there””s nothing to adjust to in the Volt. My 75-mile trip used a total of 0.9 gallons of gasoline. But I would have been happy to drive farther.

And MotorTrend opines:

The Volt is no sports car, but it blows Toyota””s plug-in Prius away (9.8 seconds to 60 mph), and runs neck and neck with a 2.4-liter Malibu in acceleration and handling tests. Figure-eight performance is virtually identical at 28.4 seconds and 0.59 g, and the Volt””s 119-foot stops from 60 mph are just 3 feet longer-impressive, given its 226-pound weight disadvantage and low-rolling-resistance tires. (The Prius weighs 376 pounds less than the Volt, yet it just matches its 0.78g lateral grip, trails both Chevys by 0.4 second on the figure eight, and needs 131 feet to stop from 60 mph.)

Based on these reports it appears that GM””s “surprise” of the ICE hooking up directly to the transmission to drive the wheels seems indeed to be a good one.  On the other hand, many will likely dwell on the fact that GM pulled a bait-and-switch on the customer.  

After all, some customers really want an honest-to-goodness BEV and may now being a bit bummed that they instead ordered what essentially amounts to a souped up plug-in hybrid.  Others have been vocal critics of the vehicle (and GM in general) and will likely jump on GM””s deception as a platform to attack the vehicle (and GM in general).

Perhaps GM was right — they had to mislead the public to protect their intellectual property.  But the move was certainly a very bad decision in terms of public relations.  GM can only hope that the public settles down and comes to realize the bottom line — that it””s offering them a superior package than what it initially promised to deliver.



Automotive navigation shifts into the Cloud

By Aharon Etengoff

Automotive navigation systems are rapidly transitioning from standalone devices to cloud-connected platforms.

Indeed, approximately 20 percent of in-vehicle navigation systems sold in 2010 are expected to offer connectivity options via an embedded modem or tethered mobile device.

This figure is likely to hit a whopping 90 percent in 2017, amounting to a total of 27 million units sold per year.

“Cloud-sourced navigation is an evolution of connected navigation systems – a trend that started several years ago,” Phil Magney, VP of automotive research at iSuppli, told TG Daily in an e-mailed statement.

“Traditional car navigation systems use databases stored on the device itself but future navigation systems will rely on information that is stored in the cloud.

“[For example], maps, points of interest, traffic and weather are [just some] of the cloud-sourced content that is enabled through connectivity.”

According to Magney, the “rising sales” of navigation systems with two-way connectivity is “being fueled” by the obvious advantages of connecting to the cloud.

“[Cloud-based] navigation systems give motorists access to the most up-to-date databases in the world. [Remember, information] changes constantly, so access to the cloud is vital [for real-time driving data].”

Meanwhile, iSuppli principal automotive analyst Egil Juliussen told TG Daily that static databases will likely “become a thing of the past” over the next 10 years.

“Connectivity means motorists will have multiple options in terms of on-board and off-board navigation resources. [For example], on-board connected navigation systems that store maps on the device will refresh periodically to reflect changes and updates,” he explained.

“In contrast, off-board navigation systems – which access a server for map data – will need constant connectivity. Both employ cloud-based data access.”

As one might expect, traffic information is currently the leading cloud-sourced service for navigation systems – which is constantly updated to reflect the latest road and highway conditions.

However, Juliussen added that there were already multiple, popular cloud-based navigation services, including weather information, Point Of Interest (POI) search, destination download, traffic camera visuals and map updates.


Jaguar reportedly investigating C-X75 production

Jaguar C-X75 Concept – Click above the image to go to the gallery

From Autoblog – Remember the Jaguar C-X75 Concept at the Paris Motor Show? Of course you do. The company repeatedly said it was “a pure concept” that wouldn””t ever learn what the word “production” meant. Well, along with Galileo, Jaguar is reportedly joining the list of those who took it all back – well, almost – by admitting it””s studying the production feasibility of what would become the X-75.

The stats again: Two 96-horsepower micro gas turbines powering batteries which in turn feed a quartet of 195-hp electric motors at the wheels for a shuddering 780 hp and 1,187 pound-feet, a 3.4-second run to 62 miles per hour, a top speed of 205 mph, an electric range of 68 miles and a range-extended blast of 560 miles. Autocar says that although Jag is studying only making 1,000 or 2,000 per year and could charge a fortune for every one of them, it””s those turbines that could decide – or more likely, terminate – the car””s fate.

See, Jag doesn””t want to stick a plain old combustion engine in it. Otherwise it would have to be redesigned because the turbines”” small footprint don””t allow room for what would need to be a very powerful V8 or a large V12. Even though the company says developing the turbines for production would cost less than doing so for an ICE, it will take up to eight years to get them ready – for even a low-volume item. Of course, we can””t imagine Jaguar is going to stand up at the 2016 Paris Auto Show and declare “The six-year-old concept car you loved in 2010 will be here in two more years! Get ready!” As far as we””re concerned, we””re happy to imagine gas turbines coming in some kind of Jaguar at some kind of date, whenever it is.