A few years ago, a novelty began showing up at auto shows alongside the newest concept cars. These vehicle creations on display were not for sale and would not be mass produced. But they showed a future where transportation could be made that is affordable and accessible. We’re talking about 3D-printed cars. Starting in 2019, it could be a reality that people will be driving down the road in cars that were made using 3D printing.
How 3D Printing Made its Way to Cars
In the early 1980s, the first technology that would contribute to 3D printing came about in Japan, although it wasn’t until 2013 that two NASA employees made the first prototype of a large-format, affordable 3D printer called Gigabot. They also launched the 3D printing company re:3D.
Since then, you can find examples of many things that have been 3D printed including artificial limbs, eyeglass frames, toys, and even (controversially) guns. The next logical step for those “go big or go home” types out there was to 3D print something large, intricate and functional, like a car.
The 3D printed Blade sports car from Divergent Microfactories
3D Printing a Need for Speed
One of the first applications of 3D printing for vehicles came from the US company Local Motors. It had a contest in early 2014 where people could submit designs for 3D printed cars, and then chose a winner. That winning design, called the Strati, was the start of the company’s ambitious plan to build a working, road-worthy 3D printed car, and at the time was focusing on only printing the frame and not all of the car’s components.
Then came the Blade. Fast forward to 2015, when a company called Divergent Microfactories unveiled a prototype of this 3D printed sports car that is capable of going from 0-60 mph in 2.2 seconds.
Not only is the outside of the futuristic-looking car made using 3D printing, but so is the chassis that is made out of individually printed aluminum pieces that are put together kind of like LEGOs. Their aim is not only to make a car using 3D printing technology but do it in an environmentally friendly way. They also claim that the Blade has 1/3 the emissions of an electric car and uses 1/50th of the factory capital costs compared to making a conventional car. The “Microfactories” part of the California-based company’s name comes from the ability to construct cars like the Blade in a smaller space using fewer resources and with less pollution.
Next Up, Mass Production
All of these 3D printed car prototypes are cool, but the problems are that the average person cannot buy one or they are not even functional. Yet another company is planning to start production of 3D printed electric cars in China, and they could be on the road as early as 2019. This means that you could see one in your neighbor’s driveway.
The Italian car manufacturer XEV just announced in late August of 2018 that it would start production on a two-seat car called the LSEV at a factory in Jiangsu, China in the coming year. It is a collaboration with the Chinese 3D printing materials company Polymaker, and the in the video above you can see the LSEV in action and view the futuristic interior and exterior. Most of the cars’ components will be made with 3D printing, other than the windows and some parts of the frame. XEV even made its own 3D printers to make the autos and has a pre-order of 5,000 cars from Poste Italiene, Italy’s postal service. The company has already built 15 cars to be safety tested. Perks of the tiny cars is that they will be customizable as well as affordable, projected to cost €10,000 or less.
Olli, the 3D printed shuttle bus from Local Motors
Meet Olli, the Self-Driving Bus
It’s true that this tiny bus from Local Motors, also made using 3D printing, is not for the average person to shuttle themself around it. But the fact that is it autonomous AND made using 3D printing is pretty revolutionary. In 2017, the company announced that it had 3D printed its first Olli in its Knoxville, Tennessee factory and in a press release said it is “believed to be the only 3D printed transit vehicle on Earth.” Its main selling point is that it is customizable and doesn’t use fossil fuels. The shuttle bus can carry up to eight people and its maximum speed of 25 mph means that you will likely arrive safely wherever Olli takes you. Keep your eyes peeled on your next visit to a college or company campus, city center, or business district for a glimpse of one of these unique buses.
Written by Andrea Heisinger, Junior Online Editor for the Sixt US website