In miniaturized form, it makes for a fine kid's toy. But Jim Kor knows that when you've spent the last several years talking up plans to build the world's first 3-D printed electric car, nothing short of a drivable vehicle will do.
Last week, the mechanical engineer, with the help of his design and engineering team, finally made good on his promise by unveiling a fully functional prototype at the at the TEDx conference in Winnipeg. Dubbed Urbee, the two-seater features an exterior body generated entirely using three dimensional additive manufacturing, a process in which parts are printed out layer by layer. In all honesty, the prototype can only be considered a partially 3-D printed vehicle since only the body panels were produced this way. However, the team hopes that won't be the case with future versions.
Underneath the hood is a single-cylinder ethanol-powered engine and electric motors that enable it to function as a hybrid. A top output of 8 hp means that performance may be limited, though it makes up for this by offering serious fuel efficiency in the range of 200 mpg on the highway and 100 mpg when navigating city streets. It's also built to last 30 years.
Despite these selling points, I'm sure some of you are still wondering what's the real advantage of printing out automobiles as opposed to assembling them. Well, think of the process this way: if the technology were scaled up, it would substantially lower manufacturing costs since rendering all the parts on the spot means less wasted materials and eliminates the need to have them shipped in from various factories. Also, there's the simplicity factor. For the production of both the miniature model and the full sized version, the team was able to run the same software program.
"This process could revolutionize how we make things. It has certainly changed my way of thinking about manufacturing," Kor told the BBC.
And to show that the Urbee project wasn't merely gimmick to promote the technology, the team is trying to raise $1 million to build a second prototype. They're aiming to roll out a commercial version by 2014 for as low as $30,000.