While the technology is less expensive and complex than operating an assembly line it also is a lot slower. It currently takes days to print out a car's body. So, were Local Motors ever to envision going large-scale, it might need hundreds or even thousands of 3D printers.
However, research is ongoing and some proponents claim they are working on techniques that could increase printer speeds by as much as 500-fold.
Local Motors previously debuted a model dubbed the Rally Fighter for $99,000. Though the private company won't reveal numbers, industry observers estimate sales are in the double digits at the most. The new project would be the first effort to make something that's more than a curiosity.
The two initial Local Motors models, the Reload Swim and Sport, will be followed later next year by a 3D printed vehicle homologated—or designed to conform—to meet federal safety standards, the company states.
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Meanwhile, it has launched a program it calls LOCO University Vehicles, short for Local Motors Co-Created University Vehicles. Three colleges have already signed up to participate: the University of Michigan, Arizona State University and the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. Several projects will focus on developing an autonomous vehicle.
"Think Uber, but with low-speed, autonomous cars," said Ed Olson, an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at University of Michigan, who leads the project there. "The goal of this program is for us to begin to understanding the challenges of a transportation-on-demand system built around autonomous cars."
The program hopes to create a fleet of autonomous vehicles to transport students around Michigan's North Campus in Ann Arbor.