Market News

 October 16, 2013
The 3D-printable car

 If Jim Kor gets his way, building a fuel-efficient car may one day be as simple as pressing "print."

Well, almost as simple.

Kor heads a team of Canadian engineers designing a car whose plastic body can be manufactured with a 3D printer. They've already made a prototype of their car, dubbed the Urbee, and are working on a second, more advanced version.

"What we like about 3D printing is it can print anything," Kor said Tuesday, during a presentation at the Verge conference in San Francisco. "And when you can print anything, you can think of everything."

Kor's presentation, sadly, included just a small model of the Urbee, rather than the real thing. But San Franciscans may get an up-close look at the car in another year or so. Kor and his start-up company, Kor Ecologic, plan to drive the second prototype from New York to San Francisco in 2015.

And if their ideas pan out, the entire trip in the small, lightweight and aerodynamic Urbee 2 --- equipped with an advanced hybrid engine --- will take less than 10 gallons of fuel. That works out to roughly 290 miles per gallon, given the route that Kor plans.

He doesn't consider it a pipe dream. Kor and his colleagues, whose past work includes designing buses and farm equipment, have created a car whose every feature is designed to reduce the horsepower needed for travel at freeway speed.

It's low to the ground, shaped like a lozenge and almost as small. It seats two and runs on three wheels. And its body --- basically, one elongated bubble --- is smooth enough to make most mass-market cars look like bricks.

"I tell people there are no square fish in the ocean," Kor said Tuesday. "There probably were, but they were eaten."

Based in Winnipeg, Kor and his team came up with the basic concept for the car, built a metal chassis, and sculpted the body in clay. Then they scanned the clay model into a computer, refined the dimensions after doing some virtual wind-tunnel testing, and fed all the specs into 3D printing equipment from Stratasys at a facility in Minnesota.

The first body panels were ready within weeks, far less time than would have been required to make them from fiberglass. And the nature of 3D printing, which builds objects by depositing ultra-thin layers of material on top of each other, created panels with no wasted plastic --- and therefore, no wasted weight.

The 2015 drive --- assuming it happens --- will largely follow in reverse the route of America's first cross-country road trip in a car. In 1903, Horatio Jackson and Sewall Crocker drove from San Francisco to New York, accompanied by Jackson's dog Bud. The trip took two months and nine days. Kor wants his sons, Tyler and Cody, to drive the Urbee 2, along with their dog, Cupid.