It may look like a bean, but the hybrid car Urbee 2 can get hundreds of miles to the gallon—and it’s made mostly via 3D printing. In two years, it could become the first such vehicle to drive across the United States.
~ Galactic human ~
In early 1903, physician and car enthusiast Horatio Nelson Jackson accepted a $50 bet that he could not cross the United States by car. Just a few weeks later, on May 23, he and mechanic Sewall K. Crocker climbed into a 20-hp Winton in San Francisco and headed east. Accompanied by Bud, a pit bull they picked up along the way, the two men arrived in New York 63 days, 12 hours, and 800 gallons of fuel later, completing the nation’s first cross-country drive.
About two years from now, Cody and Tyler Kor, now 20 and 22 years old, respectively, will drive coast-to-coast in the lozenge-shaped Urbee 2, a car made mostly by 3D printing. Like Jackson and Crocker, the young men will take a dog along for the ride—Cupid, their collie and blue heeler mix. Unlike Jackson and Crocker, they will spend just 10 gallons of fuel to complete the trip from New York to San Francisco. Then they will refuel, turn around, and follow the same west-to-east route taken by Jackson, Crocker, and Bud.
Cody and Tyler’s father, Jim Kor, beams when he talks about the trip. “The Google time estimate is 44 hours, but it will take a bit longer, I’m sure,” says Kor, president of Kor Ecologic and team leader of the Urbee 2 project. “You know, the dog has to pee and whatnot. And we could have a breakdown. But it will be a swift and efficient trip.”
Jim Kor described this ambitious endeavor at the Manufacturing the Future Summit on Wednesday. Stratasys, a global additive-manufacturing company, hosted the event at its Eden Prairie, Minn., headquarters. PopMech joined a small group of journalists at the meeting, which featured presentations by many early adopters of 3D printing.
The terms additive manufacturing and 3D printing are synonymous. A computer-aided design (CAD) file is uploaded to a 3D printer, which reads the file and creates the object, using, for example, PolyJet or Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) systems. A PolyJet machine uses liquid resins to build an object one microscopic layer at a time, following the CAD file’s code, and then cures the material with UV lights. FDM is a similar process, but it uses molten polymers. Printers can be as small as a microwave oven (such as MakerBot’s desktop models) or as large as a minivan. The biggest Stratasys model, the Fortus 900mc, is more than 9 feet long and 6 feet tall and weighs about 6600 pounds. It can print objects up to 36 by 24 inches.
Stratasys, which went into business in 1994, is growing fast. In August, it acquired MakerBot, the Brooklyn-based leader in desktop 3D printing, for a reported $604 million. It has 1600 employees worldwide, with offices in Israel, Asia, South America, and Europe. Its production arm, RedEye, has factories in Belgium, Turkey, and Australia, and at two other U.S. locations besides Eden Prairie. At Wednesday’s press event, RedEye vice president Jim Bartel announced that the company would build production facilities in Shanghai in 2014.
Sratasys has clients who testified at the summit about using its technology to make prototyping and producing their wares faster and cheaper. But Jim Kor was the star of the show. He was fidgety when he started his presentation, “Sustainable Cars and the Future of Manufacturing,” in front of about 25 people in a ground-floor conference room. “I’m an introvert,” he said, nervously stroking his salt-and-pepper beard. “Actually, it’s worse than that—I’m a hermit.”
Kor got over his dislike of public speaking, and during his talk and in subsequent interviews with PopMech, he described the years-long development of the first Urbee car and the grand plan for Urbee 2’s cross-country odyssey.
Kor was intrigued by the idea, and began sketching on a paper napkin. “It was a side view of a car that looked like a more aerodynamic Smart car, a two-seater,” he says. Within days, conceptualization and design work began on a vehicle intended for urban use, powered by electric motors and a small, ethanol-fueled combustion engine. Those key words—urban, electric, ethanol—gave the Urbee its name, and Kor Ecologic spent more than a decade refining the design.
The primary challenge was aerodynamics. In his presentation at Stratasys, Kor mentioned how a sprinting cheetah flattens its ears onto the top of its head and a falcon speeds through the air with its feet held flush with its body. “Nature is my inspiration,” he said.
By the fall of 2008, Kor and his team had a full computer model and a partial physical model of a hybrid that would get about 300 mpg. The process was smooth—Kor has worked with the same group of designers and engineers for decades—but not without some disagreement. “There were two of us that knew the aerodynamics really well, and two industrial designers,” Kor recalls. “The industrial designers kept saying, ‘It can’t look like a jellybean.’ But I was adamant that the design must be efficient first, and then we would design for the look. Most cars are done the other way around—they start with how they want the car to look, and then they try to find ways to make it efficient.”