Local Motors uses crowdsourcing to involve many developers

  • 21-Sep-2012 02:46 EDT
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Local Motors’ Rally Fighter was designed using crowdsourcing techniques.

The power of Web communications and the capabilities of modern design tools are being leveraged by Local Motors, which is using crowdsourcing to design vehicles and their components. The company is also using what it calls micro-factories to produce the designs.

The company has designed, produced, and sold 50 Rally Fighters, a Baja-style racer that’s also street legal. That car was created by independent developers who contributed their designs and voted to pick a winner.

It’s thought to be the first vehicle designed through crowdsourcing, also called co-creation. It is something of a variation on the concepts behind open-source software development. Design requirements are posted online so any interested designers can contribute their plans.

“Our business model is a little bit like Red Hat’s Linux approach,” said Jay Rogers Jr., President of Local Motors. “We sell software to our followers, so we win and our software partners win. We also get revenue from large companies that like us because we can move five times faster and work using 100 times less capital than conventional automotive companies.”

Beyond selling its Rally Fighter, Local Motors has two other central strategies. It also makes mechanical parts designed by auto enthusiasts. They are produced at its micro factories, which also produce the parts for its Rally Fighter. The company will also manage design contests, in which larger companies can specify their requirements, which are put out to Local Motors’ crowdsourcing followers.

“Big companies like Peterbilt or Domino’s Pizza buy services from us,” Rogers said. “One of the Peterbilt managers told me we had completed 40 man years of work in four weeks.”

The Peterbilt contest was for a cab redesign that was needed so the truck maker could meet requirements in California. Over 100 designers submitted completed redesigns. The winner received $10,000 from Peterbilt. Domino’s Pizza also ran a contest for the ultimate pizza delivery vehicle.

Major software companies are using the company to learn more about the potential for crowdsourcing. Siemens PLM has worked with the company for a while, offering these independent designers a variety of monthly licensing schemes so they can create designs without the large expenditure for full product lifecycle management suite. In September, Dassault Systèmes announced that it is also working closely with Local Motors.

At present, the designs are for mechanical components. For example, Edison2, a participant in the Automotive X Prize contest, recently used this approach for a door handle on its very light car. For all designs, data requirements include all the specifications needed to integrate the end component into the vehicle.

“We start with the ability to see the interface for a headlight, or another component, so you can easily see if your design works,” Rogers said. “We focus more on sheet metal and machined parts. We don’t have any embedded system programs now. We will do that in the future.”

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