University of Michigan to test 3D-printed autonomous cars

Initially, the 3D-printed SmartCart will undergo testing at a special site run by the Mobility Transformation Center, before rolling out to the North Campus of the University of Michigan

As 3D printing techniques improve and the push towards autonomous cars grows stronger, it was only a matter of time before the two technologies were combined to create an autonomous 3D-printed car. That’s exactly what Local Motors has done, putting together an autonomous car to be tested by the boffins at University of Michigan as part of a 12 month trial.

The SmartCart is one of three vehicles being built for the university’s study, and will be used to research and develop low-speed autonomous features. It will also be used to develop an Uber-style mobile phone interface that allows students to call a car for transit across campus – a process that involves managing supply and demand, as well as working out the best way to efficiently direct a fleet of cars around campus.

Because a university is a smaller, more controlled environment than the real world there are a number of different low-cost solutions to autonomy being tested, including blue lines on the ground to direct the cars around.

Although not necessarily practical in the wider world, the team of university testers believes that low-speed autonomous cars designed to work in small, controlled environments could be useful to ferry people around amusement parks, airports, aged-care communities or corporate centers.

Powering the car is a golf-cart motor but the fiber-reinforced Lego-brick plastic body is bespoke. Because of the unique 3D-printed production, if the car needs a new mounting for a sensor or someone dreams up a better design for something like the dashboard, it can be created and fitted in a matter of hours.

As exciting as it would be to see driverless carts cruising around university grounds, initially SmartCart won’t be tested among the chaos of campus life just yet. Instead, the vehicle will be tested at Mcity, which is a test center for autonomous and connected cars run by Mobility Transformation Center, a public/private initiative at the University of Michigan. The tests will later move on to the University's North Campus.

Show 2 comments

Recommended for you

Latest in 3D Printing

Editors Choice

See the stories that matter in your inbox every morning