If you experienced any kind of social awkwardness or anxiety as a teenager, which you probably did, you will also have experienced a powerful desire for something cool to materialise in front of you to act as a kind of social buoyancy aid. In the daydream, the thing appears – a razor-sharp quip on the tip of your tongue; Natalie Portman; a giant albatross taxi; a time-travelling car with the click of your fingers; and suddenly you’re either exponentially cooler, or you’re out of there, immediately.
There’s never any real process to this materialisation – no logic or design: how, for instance, would a giant bird feel empathy to rescue you? Wouldn’t Natalie Portman be busy shopping for groceries or something? We digress.
Earlier this year, a man called Jay Rogers drove around Chicago in a two-seater electrical car called the Strati, which had been assembled and birthed out of a giant 3D printer within 44 hours. Jay Rogers is the CEO of Local Motors, the motoring company responsible for the design of the world’s first 3D printed electric car, meaning that unlike our inner neurotic adolescent, he was probably already cool enough without a public display of pioneering technology to help him.
The Strati did not just magically appear, and nor can it time travel, sadly. It was the result of a four-and-a-half month process, from inception, to design, to completion, but Rogers believes that future models could be cut to as little as six weeks, with printing itself taking just 24 hours. A concept lifted straight out of the seemingly incomprehensible, the Strati was designed by Michele Anoé of Italy, who ran away with the 3D Printed Car Challenge award from 200 participating contestants. The key? Simplicity.
The Strati’s success as a 3D printed phenomenon lies in working with less. Where the average car has 25,000 components, the world’s first printed vehicle only has 49, making it an extraordinary feat of engineering: “if you can make a vehicle out of one material, you can massively reduce the number of parts”, Rogers explains.
The daydreamy notion of a car emerging fully formed from a box doesn’t end there. Local Motors are working to develop the initial prototype of the Strati, 3D printed from a carbon-fibre reinforced thermoplastic, so that materials are more adaptable, for example softer plastics for the seats, and stronger materials to improve safety measures.
In fact, the Strati’s developments could take on an even more valuable getaway function for practical use in remote locations. 3D Printing factories amidst frozen Alaskan tundras could tailor-produce weather-appropriate vehicles, with snow chains and a larger surface area. For desertscapes, cars could be printed to contend with the heat. As an electric car, this would encourage low emission options for eco savvy traffic, globally.
The world’s first 3D printed car may seem like a far cry from the desktop 3D printers you might find on Pixellounge, but Rogers hopes the Strati will become more affordable as it evolves. Previously projecting a minimum cost of £11,500, he hopes this price will continue to drop, meaning budget-friendly, 3D printed electric cars are becoming more than a pipe dream – and are created with a click of your fingers. Well, almost.