Olli 2.0 Local Motors by LMI (2)
Some of the most consequential technological and economic advances happen where two innovation trends intersect. Local Motors, a company that has been revolutionizing manufacturing to transform the future of mobility, is a perfect example.
Founded in 2007, from the very start Local Motors adopted a philosophy of open collaboration and co-creation, embracing 3D printing to manufacture vehicles through a network of microfactories—Local Motors produced the first 3D-printed car, Strati. They have shown how 3D printing can turn the concept of economies of scale upside down: Local Motors’ comparative advantage comes from its ability to produce in a cost-effective way at small scale, rather than betting on cost efficiencies at large production scale. This means greater flexibility in localization, and more diversified creation of local jobs. Local Motors has been an early adopter and evangelist of digital manufacturing, and its experience can teach us a lot about the future of manufacturing.
Jay Rogers, Local Motors’ founder and CEO, thinks digital manufacturing has moved beyond the hype cycle and reached what he calls “the plane of enlightenment”. This might sound philosophical, but don’t envision a Buddhist transcendence of the realities of the factory floor—quite the opposite. Rogers has a very pragmatic take. He thinks that after a perhaps excessive and single-minded fascination with software, industrial companies are realizing that both the digital and the analog, discrete aspects of production need to evolve together in order to achieve greater efficiency and productivity.
Autonomous and electrical vehicles, Local Motors’ bread and butter, are a case in point: The advances in software are great—says Rogers—but there is no Moore’s law in batteries, there is no Moore’s law in electrical and autonomous vehicle technology per se; we need to look beyond it, towards different models of mobility, in particular shared mobility.
Many of us tend to envision the future of mobility as a lot like the present, only with computers doing the driving. We will still get into our own beloved car in the morning, but we will be free to read the paper and check our emails while the on-board artificial intelligence takes care of the rest.
This might eventually come to pass, but Local Motors is betting that autonomous driving will scale first and faster for shared mobility, starting in more controlled environments such as college and corporate campuses.
Enter Olli, Local Motors’ 3D-printed shuttle: Olli is autonomous, electric, and smart. Olli has already been deployed in several U.S. states, in Italy, Saudi Arabia with more to come soon. It moves people around at urban speed in a safe and environmentally sustainable way, while its on-board artificial intelligence collects data on driving conditions that will gradually allow to expand its range of deployment.
Even more impressive, however, is how Olli is built: thanks to digital manufacturing, Olli is 80% 3D-printed with 100% recyclable material; it has 90% fewer parts than a traditional vehicle, with a 40% energy saving in the manufacturing process.
Digital technology is the crucial enabler of these impressive achievements; yet when you watch the “Meet Olli” video on Local Motors’ website, one thing that jumps out is how human workers feature prominently in the process—unlike the classic images of a robot-dominated factory floor in a traditional auto manufacturing plant. Jay Rogers strongly believes that “we are not in a hard deterministic world, and therefore we cannot do everything with robots. Our products are so complex that the human component is indispensable to leverage the power of technology.”
The synergy between humans and machines, therefore, is crucial to unleash the power of digital manufacturing. But how transformational is digital manufacturing? Jay Rogers points to three aspects, and underscores that 3D printing plays a crucial role.
First of all, digital manufacturing can help companies become anti-fragile—says Rogers, citing Nassim Taleb’s famous book. Taleb coined the term anti-fragile to indicate something fundamentally different from “solid”, the classic antonym of fragile. Solid is something that has a high probability of withstanding a shock. Antifragile is something that, when subjected to a shock, not only survives it but becomes even stronger.
The concept of a Minimum Viable Product represents the paradigm shift towards anti-fragility: it teaches companies to remain nimble, to monitor the reactions of the markets, shifts in customer tastes and competitors’ behavior, and to react rapidly by modifying their products and offerings—getting stronger thanks to the shocks of the market. If you are a software company, this has always been relatively easier. But if you are a manufacturing company, you need a technology that allows you to change your production faster and to experiment with new designs at a faster pace—and this has become possible only once 3D printing has come onto the scene.
Second, digital manufacturing can help you disrupt the entire supply chain. This is exactly what Local Motors has done. Entering a sector where products are bulky, heavy and costly to ship, Local Motors has leveraged 3D printing to dramatically simplify and localize production.
Third, digital manufacturing enables personalization. This becomes especially valuable for smaller products, notes Rogers, where there is less scope to reduce costs by reducing volumes—like medical devices—but can also play an important role in autonomous vehicles. Digital manufacturing can allow companies to respond much more quickly to customers’ changing needs.
The recent coronavirus outbreak has shown that the economy has become increasingly exposed to shocks to supply chains and financial conditions. Being anti-fragile is already a strong comparative advantage, and could become essential. Local Motors shows how digital manufacturing can help make companies anti-fragile; while its innovations in autonomous shared mobility can bring greater efficiency, sustainability and resilience to our economy and society.