At a quarter the weight of most cars, the Urbee is undeniably cute.
And as the world's first 3D printed car, it also demonstrates that the technology has the muscle to disrupt the vast plains of the manufacturing industry, everything from toy four-wheelers to, well, way more complex full-sized versions. That's part of the reason why Jim Kors, Urbee's creator, was beaming when he unveiled the original printed prototype in 2011 at the TEDx conference in Winnepeg.
But Kors had something bigger in mind than simply showcasing potential. The real goal, which he stated all along, was to have a street-ready model on the market within a few years.
While his latest iteration, the Urbee II, signifies that the dream is still a work-in-progress, it also shows the technology's way forward. The molded exterior is comprised of tough, impact resistant ABS plastic that's much lighter than metal. And when combined with a race-car roll cage and printed shock-absorbing parts placed between the exterior body and internal chassis, the little three-wheeled two-seater should be as safe for NASCAR competitors as it is for everyday commuters.
Another advantage of using 3D printing methods is that some of the smaller parts can be combined and produced as one big component instead of being assembled via a multitude of vendors, a standard practice that makes the whole vehicle heavier and costlier at times. Fewer parts also reduces rolling resistance, making it more aerodynamic.
Ultimately, the benefits would manifest as marathon-like improvements in fuel efficiency. What kind of MPG are we talking about here? Equipped with a 10 horsepower gas and electric hybrid engine, Kor's company, Kor Ecologic hopes to stage a road trip from coast to coast (San Francisco to New York) on roughly 10 gallons of gas.
He's working with RedEye On Demand, a rapid prototyping and direct digital manufacturing service run by Stratasys, Ltd to develop the ambitious project.
“We’re trying to prove without dispute that we did this drive with existing traffic,” Kor told Wired. “We’re hoping to make it in Google [Maps'] time, and we want to have the Guinness Book of World Records involved.”
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This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com