Highlights from the 2014 LA Auto Show

Urbee 2 to attempt US crossing using ten gallons of fuel

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November 10, 2013

Rendering of the Urbee 2 overlooking a city at sunset (Photo: Kor EcoLogic)

Rendering of the Urbee 2 overlooking a city at sunset (Photo: Kor EcoLogic)

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Urbee 2, the first road-ready, fuel-efficient car built using 3D printing, is the subject of a collaboration between design firm KOR EcoLogic, direct digital manufacturers RedEye On Demand, and 3D-printing manufacturer Stratsys. Their aim is to put the 7 hp (5 kW) three-wheeled, rear-steering eco-hybrid on the roads by 2015, and then demonstrate its capabilities by crossing the US using only ten gallons (38 L) of fuel.

The first Urbee, introduced in 2010, combined a fuel-efficient 5 hp (3.8 kW) hybrid drive and a 3D-printed body with excellent aerodynamic performance to achieve over 200 mpg on the highway. However, the original 3D-printed body was made using a great deal of excess material to produce strength without the benefit of careful designing. The safety of the car in a crash was also questionable. As a result, the Urbee was a successful concept car, but stopped there.

Stopped, that is, until the Urbee 2 came along. Urbee 2 shares the same general design, being a three-wheeled two-seater that is steered by a single wheel in the rear of the vehicle. It will weigh about 1,200 lbs (550 kg), some thirty percent less than the original Urbee.

Rendering of an Urbee 2 traveling on a highway through the woods (Photo: Kor EcoLogic)

The shape of the body underwent subtle changes to optimize its aerodynamic performance, resulting in a drag coefficient of 0.149. For comparison, the drag coefficient of the Toyota Prius and the Tesla Model S, at 0.25 and 0.24, respectively, are among the best of current production cars.

Urbee 2 is a series-parallel hybrid vehicle, meaning it combines more than one energy source to propel the vehicle. In the city, the Urbee runs on electricity stored in its batteries, which are expected to store about 10 hp-hours (7.6 kWh). The front wheels are driven by a pair of 36 volt electric motors, which together provide a cruising power of 8 hp (6 kW) and a peak power of 16 hp (12 kW).

Schematic drawing of the Urbee 2 powertrain (Photo: Kor EcoLogic)

The kinetic energy of the vehicle is largely recovered by a regenerative braking system and stored in a set of ultracapacitors with a capacity of about 0.05 hp-hour (35 W-hr). The pure electric driving range is likely to be in the neighborhood of 40 miles (64 km). Should the batteries start to die during the commute home, an internal combustion engine will run an alternator to charge them.

At highway speeds, Urbee utilizes an internal combustion engine, as such an engine is most efficient when running at about 60 percent of its peak power. This powertrain will allow the Urbee 2 to cruise comfortably at about 70 mph (110 km/h). Although an engine has not yet been selected, it is likely to be a 7-8 hp single-cylinder diesel which can also be run on ethanol. Roughly speaking, this is a very efficient lawnmower engine. When passing or on uphill stretches, additional power is obtained by operating the electric and diesel engines in parallel.

A set of Frotus 900mc 3D production systems (Photo: Kor EcoLogic)

The body and interior are now 3D printed on a set of Stratsys Fortus 900mc 3D production systems. The 900mc systems have a build volume of 36 x 24 x 36 inches (914 x 610 x 914 mm), and an accuracy of better than 0.004 in (0.1 mm).

The Urbee 2 design includes more than 50 3D printed components, which require 2,500 hours of work by the Fortus 900mc systems. "With Urbee 2, more than 50 percent of the car will be 3D printed," says Jim Kor, owner and chief designer of Kor EcoLogic. "Everything you typically see and touch on the car, as you drive the car, will be 3D printed." Interestingly, if you lease the manufacturing time, it adds up to about US$25,000 of the perhaps optimistic estimated $50,000 or less list price.

Three-D printed front body panels for the Urbee 2 (Photo: Kor EcoLogic)

Many of the printed components are now designed with three-dimensional structures intended to provide more strength and rigidity while requiring lass material. Kor likes to compare the fender of a future Urbee with a bird bone. "If you look at a cross section of a bird bone, you'll see that there is bone only where the bird needs strength," he said. "The bone looks like chaotic webbing. FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) is the only process that can replicate a bird bone."

These design changes have resulted in the remarkable 500 lb (230 kg) loss of weight. Most, if not all of the 3D-printed components are made of ABS plastic, but the 900mc can also print polycarbonate and polycarbonate/ABS copolymers, which may be used in components requiring greater strength, toughness, or longevity.

The Urbee 2 partial prototype without its body panels, showing the chrome-moly tube frame ...

To address the safety concerns, the chassis and framing will consist of welded chrome-moly steel tubing. The goal of the design team is to manufacture the Urbee 2 to pass the Le Mans technical regulations, including a NASCAR-style roll cage. The result will be a vehicle that meets or exceeds safety standards. In most places, the Urbee 2 is likely to be registered as a motorcycle, as its size and weight does not fit most definitions of a car.

An Urbee 2 could sit in your driveway if Jim Kor and his team get their way (Photo: Kor Ec...

The most difficult hurdle at the moment is the estimated $3 million that must be raised to fund development of the Urbee 2. Kor is taking advantage of Kickstarter and other forms of crowdfunding, but it seems unlikely that the new prototype will emerge without finding an angel or two along the way. Any volunteers?

The team's Kickstarter video pitch can be viewed below.

Source: Kor Ecologic

About the Author
Brian Dodson From an early age Brian wanted to become a scientist. He did, earning a Ph.D. in physics and embarking on an R&D career which has recently broken the 40th anniversary. What he didn't expect was that along the way he would become a patent agent, a rocket scientist, a gourmet cook, a biotech entrepreneur, an opera tenor and a science writer.   All articles by Brian Dodson
16 Comments

The rear wheel steering makes the vehicle drive strangely so even if it is not a problem for its driver it is going to move in a manner that the other drivers are not going to expect. This makes it more dangerous.

Slowburn
10th November, 2013 @ 10:09 pm PST

I would not want to drive that windshield into a sunset, rainstorm, or oncoming headlights. Polycarbonate is very easy to scratch, but very hard to polish.

Bob Stuart
11th November, 2013 @ 01:26 am PST

In the cut away picture of plastic body I noticed the floor cut out. Is that so the occupants can drop their legs down and run like the Flintstones car? What is the top speed of this car? It takes speed and weight for regenerative braking to be significantly effective.

donwine
11th November, 2013 @ 08:32 am PST

Wait, that sounds vaguely familiar... 40 miles on electricity with a gas backup engine. Didn't a big company in Detroit come up with that idea about 10 years ago? Oh right, it's called the Volt.

tyme2par4
11th November, 2013 @ 08:40 am PST

Please explain how stability will be achieved with inherently unstable rear-wheel steering. One would think that any over-input to steer the real wheel could easily become hugely magnified, resulting in catastrophic loss of control. Clearly this challenge has been dealt with. How?

Rodney Fisk
11th November, 2013 @ 08:58 am PST

While cool looking it has a few things wrong.

First thinking a diesel in this size is eff isn't true and for much less money, weight with better eff get a racing gocart motor with 14-1 compression ratio set up for ethanol that is.

You could get 15 hp as eff as a 7hp diesel at 50% of the weight.

Next ultracaps are an expensive overweight scam. This alone shows they are not real smart in EV drives. Use the money, weight for more battery.

Why still doing metal framing when well done composite body/chassis is much lighter, stronger, cheaper and more space eff too? They have already done the hard work in the shape. The rest is just lay up schedule in a mold made from the prototype, simple, cheap, stronger than steel.

The windshield angle presents so many problems from distortion, heat gain, limited ability to see, etc and not needed for good aero.

.

jerryd
11th November, 2013 @ 10:08 am PST

the thrust ssc used rear wheel steering , they tested it on a purpose built mini chassis and it' completely safe and stable .

Károly Hőss
11th November, 2013 @ 10:12 am PST

Kind of cool, but totally impractical. One would need to be a dwarf just to fit in it.

Nelson Hyde Chick
11th November, 2013 @ 11:44 am PST

It it can win the X-Prize & sell under $45K I would buy it.

Don Duncan
11th November, 2013 @ 04:57 pm PST

No I like this project and I disagree with some of the comments here.

The rear wheel steering is fine for a docile-use vehicle like this. Every boat, aircraft and forklift use it after all! The 3 wheel arrangement obviously has negative implications for stability though. Again, it's for docile driving and this a tech demonstrator.

A go-cart engine is efficient when being flogged but even with changes to the oiling and fueling, they're not really suitable for constant load applications. A small non-turbo diesel is harder than a large diesel to make truly efficient in SFC terms, that's true, but it's the right type of engine so it's better to start there and tweak. I'm not sure what they're saying about ethanol though - pure ethanol is useless for diesels and messing around with blends of it seems beyond the scope of what they're doing here.

I agree with the decision to go with a metal frame - if composites were worth it for limited runs, they'd be in every major race car competition. Composites are the future but if I was going to drive this thing across the US today, I'd prefer an old fashioned frame. Also, composites in aircraft haven't taken over like everyone predicted. The economies of production and the potential for super strength and awesome shaping of components hasn't translated properly from theory to practice. That might be a production volume thing, I'm not sure.

I don't know what the return on weight/cost is but ultra caps have great potential for the speedy storage and then dispensing of small amounts of energy. I'm thinking more about stop start traffic than long mountain descents though. As an aside, I would have thought a a small gas bottle hooked up to a device that acts as both air-compressing brakes and an air-powered motor would be more efficient though. Might also be beyond the scope of this project :-)

John Hogan
11th November, 2013 @ 05:02 pm PST

That design looks really nice. I hope they have success.

BigGoofyGuy
11th November, 2013 @ 06:44 pm PST

The unnecessarily huge windshield can be coated with an IR blocking tint to control the greenhouse effect. Hopefully URBEE takes a few pointers from these guys:

http://www.100mpgplus.com

Future's looking interesting

Phileaux
11th November, 2013 @ 08:05 pm PST

Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion car had a single rear wheel with steering. The drivetrain was stock Ford, IIRC from a Model A. He flipped the rear axle over so with the engine at the rear the drive would be forward.

The drivetrain was otherwise unmodified. The improved aerodynamics enabled the engine which struggled to shove a Model A into the 50MPH range to scoot the Dymaxion along at over 100MPH.

The end of the Dymaxion car came when a truck T-boned one. The truck was quickly hauled away, coincidentally in time for the press to show up and write many lies about how the "unstable" Dymaxion had crashed.

Would be interesting to know if it was GM, Ford or Chrysler who put the hit on the Dymaxion and how much it cost them!

Gregg Eshelman
12th November, 2013 @ 12:38 am PST

Yet again so many negative comments from males who think they know more than this group of well intentioned engineers. Odd that we do not see your car being written about. Either create something better, or just do not post something. In other words, shut-up.

steveraxx
12th November, 2013 @ 04:36 pm PST

I would 3D print the metal chassis using powdered aircraft aluminum, further reducing the weight, greatly reduce the window glass, using multiple cameras for an even greater field of view and use gorilla glass rather than Polycarbonate for any remaining glass. I would also place flywheels at each wheel, both for ride stabilization and further energy recovery, ultra capacitors in hemp plastic body panels, 3D printed electronic circuits and hemp fabric seats, which should greatly reduce the cost and I do not for a minute believe $50K is overly optimistic. In fact, given the rapid advances in the technology, the cost should be closer to $20K to $25K, with $15K not out of the question, even if wireless charging were included. After all, it is all about economies of scale and production simplicity.

Robert Fallin
12th November, 2013 @ 06:19 pm PST

Look all the negative comments about rear wheel steering of y arranged vehicles as unsafe are unfounded and completely wrong!!! We do in these modern times have fast, SAFE vehicles that can be controlled by rear steering. If it passes the tests I'm pretty sure they have worked out a safe electronic limiter to steering input, or geometry of suspension/steering to make safe.

Still don't understand why they aren't printing using carbon composites yet, as seriously could be the cheapest best way to print, and as carbon is universes most abundant substance, you'd think it'd be cheap....lol. 3D printing of all major structures including tower blocks will be the way to go. Just put 3d printers on the foundations of the buildings and press GO, sounds crazy, but they won't need ppl for much then will they.

PaulYak
14th February, 2014 @ 08:40 am PST
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