Local Motors: Manufacturing Future Ready Vehicles

In the early 1980s, an engineer named Chuck Hull went to his boss with an idea; to build a machine that printed items people could hold in their hands. However, his idea was not approved by his manager and he was only discouraged because of the same — after all, the company was producing UV lamps, not “Star Trek” replicators. However, the world wasn’t ready to wait, and the two men eventually reached to a compromise; by day, Chuck would dedicate himself to the company’s lamps; at night, he’d cobble together his dream machine.

Fast forward to thirty years, 3D printing has made its way in our lives, and its practical applications are endless. Today, 3D printing is being widely used by small start-up companies to large OEM vehicle and aircraft manufacturers allowing faster and more cost effective alternatives to traditional manufacturing methods. However, this wasn’t the case back in 2007, when only a few knew how effective 3D printing could be if used to its true potential. One of those talented minds who believed in 3D printing was John B. Rogers Jr. (Jay Rogers), who – after serving for seven years in the United States Marine Corps, where he was an Infantry Company Commander – founded Local Motors as a way to bring manufacturing and customization to the people.

Ten years later, with headquarters in Phoenix, Arizona Local Motors is a leading technology company that designs, builds and sells vehicles. Local Motors has already created the World’s first 3D Printed car, the Strati, which took only 44 hours to print. 3D Printing was seen as the future and Jay saw it for what it’s true worth was, only to lead that movement from the forefront.

An Entrepreneur who saw Future before it Arrived

Rogers has entrepreneurship in his DNA. From his grandfather who was an entrepreneur, he drew inspiration. After graduating from Princeton along with a Masters’ degree in Business Administration from Harvard Business School, and having spent time in consulting and in banking, Rogers headed down an academic and professional route that seemed appropriate for a future entrepreneur. However, a seven year stint in the United States Marine Corps had the most profound impact on his career where he learned about leading in precarious situations with imperfect information.

In his career, he has worked as a consultant for McKinsey & Co., as an investment analyst at Ewing & Partners, and at a startup medical device company in the People’s Republic of China. He also serves as the Chief Investment Officer and Director of the RBR Foundation, a philanthropic foundation focused on education and healthcare.

Driving the Commercialization of High Technology Products

Local Motors is focused on low-volume manufacturing of open source motor vehicles designed using microfactories. Using co-creation and micromanufacturing, drives the commercialization of high technology products. “When you drive the commercialization of technology products, which we do for own accounts and some other large businesses that have similarly complex high technology products, it is about changing a hundred-year paradigm in mass manufacturing. We are now using the crowd. We are using a bespoke community that we build with suppliers and customers. Then we are changing the way we think about manufacturing. We have a mass oriented way of thinking about product commercialization,” asserts Rogers.

Making the World Ready For the Future

Amongst Local Motors’ greatest achievements is Olli, a self-driving bus which not only carries passengers, but also talks to them. To enable such level of human interaction, Olli leverages four Watson APIs — Speech to Text, Entity Extraction, Natural Language Classifier and Text to Speech.

Olli uses laser sensors that can detect the distance of objects in order to get around town, and also analyzes and learns from the high volumes of transportation data the sensors produce. Olli has a maximum speed of 25 mph and can transport up to 12 people. Local Motors has incorporated 30 sensors in this self-driving bus to collect the data, allowing it to make quick decisions.

“Olli offers a smart, safe and sustainable transportation solution that is long overdue,” Rogers says. “Olli with Watson acts as our entry into the world of self-driving vehicles, something we’ve been quietly working on with our co-creative community for the past year,” he adds on Olli.

Understanding the Wants and Needs of Consumers

Being an open source company, Local Motors brings thoughts, ideas and solutions together on its online community SaaS platform, Launch Forth. The manufacturing company co-creates its vehicles and products to understand the wants and needs of consumers of today and the future. Local Motors collaborates with prestigious companies such as IBM, Siemens, GE and Airbus to redefine not only the process but the outcome.

Leading from the front, Rogers still considers Local Motors as a fairly small company, especially in comparison to OEM Manufacturers. “We have to educate our critics on what differentiates us from our competitors and constantly push the envelope and show that what Local Motors is doing, is the future,” he adds.

Values that Drive the Innovation

Local Motors’ core values are co-creation, open source technology and Direct Digital Manufacturing with 3D printing in Micro-factories. They believe that everyone has valuable ideas and thoughts, and they want to not only make them heard, but also to make them a reality.

For instance, an electrical engineer at a large company is asked to only provide feedback and information on electrical, but they believe that this person may also have a great idea for the way an interior can be designed. Local Motors believes in giving everyone the ability to “have a seat at the table” and bringing their ideas, thoughts and experiences to light, which will only help to create a better vehicle product in the end.

“The future is unknown, but we are trying to pave that path as we move forward. We see 3D printing becoming the standard in manufacturing, instead of the exception,” concludes Rogers on the future of 3D printing.