Crowdsourcing design model is moving forward fast

Written by: Paul Fanning | Published:
Local Motors crowdsourcing design model is moving forward fast

The concept of collaborative design – 'crowdsourcing' ideas in order to design and develop genuinely innovative commercial products – has been a minor obsession of the design community as long as the technology to enable easy communication of ideas has been available.

Among the best examples of this becoming a reality is the Local Motors project, which has successfully harnessed the talents of an international community of industrial designers, engineers, CAD modellers and fabricators to not just design, but also to build and sell vehicles.

This 'co-creation' leverages the popular crowdsourcing concept to design collaboratively and develop a vehicle by involving an open design community, in this case a community of 13,000 – including the eventual customers of the vehicle. The first – and most fully-developed – effort of this collaborative process resulted in the Rally Fighter, the world's first open source production vehicle. 25 of these vehicles were built and sold in 2011, with another 110 to be produced this year.

The vehicles are to be produced in a number of local 'micro factories'. Local Motors will build micro-factories in regions where demand is highest. Cars are built and sold from the micro-factories on a just-in-time basis. The development and manufacturing process dramatically reduces waste while maintaining the flexibility to incorporate new, efficient technologies as they emerge.

But the Rally Fighter is far from being the only project being worked on by Local Motors. Indeed, in a speech about manufacturing delivered on June 24, 2011 at Carnegie Mellon University, United States President Barack Obama recognised Local Motors for designing and building a new combat support vehicle for the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in less than four months. The president credited Local Motors' ability to collapse development time for not only delivering the vehicle "ahead of schedule", but also for its potential to "save taxpayers billions of dollars" and possibly even "save lives" by getting necessary equipment to the battlefield faster.

Another part of Local Motors' business plan lies in holding open competitions among its community to design particular parts or products. The DARPA vehicle, for instance, came about as a result of a challenge to create a new process for the development of future military vehicles. The first step in this new process is to test the co-creation of a Militarily Relevant vehicle through a unique Experimental Crowd-derived Combat-support Vehicle (XC2V) Design Challenge. The winning design from this challenge was then rapidly developed and transformed into an operational prototype that was shown around the United States as a proof of concept. The stakes are high: In addition to being able to have the winning design turned into a functioning concept vehicle, the winner received a $7,500 cash prize.

Current competitions also include the Shell GameChanger DRIVEN (Design of Relevant and Innovative Vehicles for Energy Needs) challenge. This asks members to design a vehicle that could be produced in the next 5-10 years for one of five chosen locations: Amsterdam, Bangalore, Basra, Houston, or Sao Paolo. The vehicle design should use locally sourced energy and materials, and should help address social challenges that each of these locations are currently facing.

Another such challenge was Local Motors' 'Open Wheel Challenge', which requires entrants to model in 3D the most innovative wheel rim designs they could think of. These are then uploaded in IGES, STEP, or STL. At the end of each month, the five designs that have been 'liked' most are 3D printed in miniature and sent it to the authors. Ultimately, though, the idea is to create a resource to help the community to design other projects – pulling from the entries already made.

One of the most recently-launched aspects of Local Motors is what is known as 'Local Forge'. Launched in November last year, this is the new face of the Local Motors community. This is designed to bring together the key elements of design, engineering and fabrication more effectively.

Damien Declercq, Local Motors' director of new business development, believes that this business model will change the face of engineering design, saying: "It has the potential to be completely disruptive for the whole mobility and transport industry."

A major step towards this for the project took place when Local Motors announced a partnership with Siemens PLM whereby it would adopt Solid Edge software as the computer-aided design (CAD) tool for its recently launched Open Electric Vehicle project and is recommending the software to its entire product design community - available for less than $20 per month.

"It was crucial for Local Motors and the level of interaction that all of our community has not access to professional level CAD software. In order to take LM to the next step, the community needed a design tool that capable of designing and assembling an automobile. The partnership with Siemens has given us that," says Declercq.

Siemens has developed two new products, and is making them available through Local-Motors. The first is a browser-based version of its JT viewer. JT is the most widely used lightweight 3D file format in the automotive industry. With this viewer, a community member can view, section, and measure 3D models from directly within the Local Motors website.

The second is a special version of Solid Edge, called Design1. Solid Edge has traditionally been a feature-based parametric solid modeling CAD system. Several years ago, Siemens added direct modeling to Solid Edge, in the form of Synchronous Technology. The new Solid Edge Design1 product is a Synchronous Technology only version with no feature-based parametric modeling tools. Even so, however, Declercq believes the ability for Local Motors' members to be on the same page as far as software is concerned has the potential to revolutionise its activities.

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