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Start-up plans to release 3D-printed, street-ready cars next year

Lucas Mearian | July 14, 2015
An Arizona custom car company hopes to produce what it calls the first 3D-printed, street-ready vehicle early next year.

The Blade is also very lightweight -- its body's only a tad over 100 lbs. -- as it's made with aluminum and carbon-fiber tubing. But unlike Local Motors' vehicles, The Blade features 3D-printed "node" or carbon fiber tubing used to create the chassis. The body, the interior and anything else that can be seen is created using traditional manufacturing methods.

For its cars, Local Motors is 3D printing the entire body of the car and is working with several universities and Oak Ridge National Lab to create the vehicles.

The 3D-printed vehicles are expected to showcase the advantages of direct digital manufacturing (DDM), which may someday offer consumers the ability to create customizable vehicles at the factory. DDM allows adjustments to a design to be made on-the-fly using computer-aided design software. A 3D printer can then execute the design changes.

"What's more, its design boasts a flexible foundation that can support many different styles and technology options," Local Motors stated in a news release.

A lithium-ion battery will power the first of the 3D-printed cars. Local Motors, however, said it is already working to identify other battery options for the vehicles. For example, the company is exploring lithium sulfur battery technology, which creates three times the energy at half the weight of lithium-ion models.

Last year, Local Motors produced its first 3D-printed car, the Strati, which had a visibly course body created by the thick layers of thermal plastic material.

The Strati was produced by Cincinnati Inc. for Local Motors and took about 44 hours to print using a fused filament fabrication (FFF) method where thermoplastic is melted and extruded layer by layer. Depending on the thickness of the layers, the surface of an object printed with a FFF 3D machine can have a course, ribbed surface.

For the ReLoad Redacted cars, Local Motors has been working with the Oak Ridge National Lab.

Local Motors also hopes to launch a fleet of vehicles based on the ReLoad Redacted design that it is calling LOCO University Vehicles. LOCO (Local Motors Co-Created) reflects a partnership where the LOCO vehicles will be used by universities to develop technology that could eventually go into the 3D-printed cars -- including new and better materials, robotics and, eventually, autonomous (self-driving) technology.

The first three universities to participate in the program are the University of Michigan, Arizona State University and the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.

The University of Michigan this week took delivery of a LOCO, with its research efforts focusing on the development of autonomous technology. U of M plans to use the LOCO to develop a fleet of autonomous vehicles to transport students around the university's north campus, while also serving as the nation's first testbed for on-demand autonomous cars.


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