Car manufacturer Local Motors has revealed it is currently 3D printing an autonomous vehicle, the Olli at his micro-factory in Knoxville, Tennessee.

The driverless vehicle has already begun trials in Germany as part of a collaboration with Deutsche Bahn and has been designed to autonomously transport small groups of passengers around an urban environment. The German trial is taking place in Berlin to transport passengers from work to the nearest Deutsche Bahn rail station.

The bottom half of the 3D printed Olli in Knoxville. Photo via Local Motors.

The bottom half of the 3D printed Olli in Knoxville. Photo via Local Motors.

“Making history”

In a blog post from Local Motors, the company states it “is making history this week by “printing” it’s first Olli self-driving shuttle in the company’s Knoxville micro-factory.” Local Motors is known for its 3D printed car production in the past which has also incorporated drones.

However, the company is not just using the production method for a gimmick. By implementing 3D printing as the means for production, Local Motors is able to modify the design depending on the customer, while providing a rapid and sustainable production process. Los Angeles company Divergent3D is similarly addressing the automotive market with 3D printed production.

The vehicle being 3D printed on a Cincinnati machine. Photo via Local Motors.

The vehicle being 3D printed on a Cincinnati machine. Photo via Local Motors.

3D printed production

Local Motors compares its manufacturing process to more conventional automobile manufacturing to demonstrate how the method enables flexible design. To produce cars traditionally, on a mass scale, automotive companies are required to invest heavily in tooling and production facilities especially for one specific car design. This does not allow for flexibility in design and means the company is forced to approach production with a one-size-fits-all mentality.

The Local Motors team testing the shuttle out for size. Photo via Local Motors.

The Local Motors team testing the shuttle out for size. Photo via Local Motors.

Accessible Olli

While of course one size generally does fit all in terms of car design, the Olli can be redesigned for specific customers or function. In the context of a University campus wishing for a certain vehicle design, Local Motors explains

In this case the large automaker can’t alter their vehicle, but Local Motors can simply change the FILE, and print a batch of Ollis that fit best with the campus’ needs.

Local Motors uses a Cincinnati Inc BAAM printer to create components of the Olli vehicles and a digital design file which can be altered depending on the customer. The company is also exploring how to implement smart features to enable better access for users with mobility, sight, hearing or cognitive impairments. The ‘Accessible Olli’ intends to use IBM Watson software to help with these user interactions.

3D printing the roof. Photo via Local Motors.

3D printing the roof. Photo via Local Motors.

Olli going to Disney World?

It has also been reported by the Los Angeles Times that Disney is looking to implement Olli vehicles at Disney World in Florida. The resort reportedly intends to begin trials of driverless vehicles later this year with Local Motors’ Olli and French company Navya in consideration.

The potential for Disney-themed Olli shuttles is apparent and it will be interesting to see if this happens. Disney has filed for a patent recently to create 3D printed soft robotics so are clearly already familiar with the technology.

Looking to the future of Local Motors’ Olli production, the company recently teamed up with the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI) and Oak Ridge National Laboratory to develop composite materials for car production. Local Motors is perhaps interested in improving the durability of the 3D printed vehicle for the future.

With the 3D Printing Industry Awards taking place this month in London, make sure to place your votes to decide the winners

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Featured image shows how the Olli is intended to look when finished. Photo via Local Motors. 

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