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It Takes a Village to…Build a Car?


Open source technology: Software companies do it. Why not carmakers? Photo via Riversimple.

What if you could revolutionize the way cars are designed and built by opening the process up to input from the entire community?

That’s exactly what Riversimple is trying to do. The UK-based car company will license its energy-efficient automobile designs (available under Creative Commons non-commercial license) to the 40 Fires Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that will invite engineers, designers, lawyers and other car business experts to comment on high-level design matters, for example, the use of hub motors.

On its wiki, where most of the discussion will happen, 40 Fires writes, “all we really care about is that the license works to ensure that the cars can be built in hundreds of different variations around the world, by local companies and entrepreneurs as well as big multinationals if they like, and that no one company (whether Ford or Riversimple) can dominate the market and keep the ideas to itself.”

WHAT KIND OF VEHICLE?

The first project up for public comment and revision is the prototype for the Riversimple Urban Car, a two-seater car constructed of composite materials and powered by a six-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell that is designed to achieve the energy equivalent of 300 miles per gallon, with top speeds of 50 miles per hour within a 240-mile range. Instead of buying the car, customers will lease it for £200 a month, including maintenance and fuel (kind of like signing on to a new mobile phone plan, a concept that electric car company Better Place has already pioneered.)

HOW WILL THIS WORK?

The car was originally designed by by Oxford and Cranfield University professors and students, but now Riversimple is planning to leave the project open source, making the design available online, under a new project titled “The Hyrban.”

Next Steps:

The designs will be made available on this site over the course of the next few months. These will be in various formats (including .step and .iges) allowing them to be viewed and manipulated by virtually any CAD application.

We intend to start off discussion groups in key areas of the design, leading to development of a prototype vehicle in 2010. Riversimple has said it will build 10 prototypes based on these designs for testing purposes.

The eventual goal is a full production vehicle.

WHY OPEN SOURCE?

From BBC News:

The idea, [Riversimple says], is to allow local manufacturing in small plants. This stands in contrast to the “economies of scale” that drive current plants to huge sizes and workforces.

In addition, designs can be adjusted for local markets, using locally sourced parts or materials.

The agreement will be such that if the designs are improved by a local manufacturer, those improvements will be sent back, so that what the company refers to as its “network of manufacturers” can contribute to the overall development of the product line.

In Riversimple’s own language, the open-source process is beneficial for the following reasons:

  • speed up development times
  • produce more robust, reliable products
  • drive the adoption of common standards
  • drive down component costs

The Riversimple Urban Car was unveiled to the public for the first time in London on June 16, 2009. Watch a clip of the launch here:

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