FlutterScout-30

Photos by Taylor Alexander

[Editor’s note: We loved this project so much, we’ve brought it back with complete steps so you can follow along while making your own!]

3D printers, I think, are a bigger deal than most people realize. For the first time in human history, we have a way to produce high-quality, complex parts at nearly zero marginal cost. Case in point: This 3D printed race car only requires $10 in material, 24 hours of machine time, and $1 in electricity. If the machine could be fed with industrial plastic pellets instead of custom-made filament, it would only be $1 in plastic.

I worked for 7 years designing parts and programming industrial CNC metal cutting machines in a machine shop, so I know well how much labor it typically takes to produce a good part. A CNC machine has many automatic features and makes very high-quality parts, but it still takes a lot of skilled labor to use. 3D printers, on the other hand, take no labor at all to produce complex parts. That’s a very new thing, and has the potential to do for mechanical goods what the printing press did for books — eliminate essentially all human labor required to make things, and drastically lower the cost of living.

Our society runs on the idea that physical resources are scarce, but what if we could end that scarcity? What if we could print robots that could do all the hard work in society? All the farms, shipping depots, kitchens, mines, hospitals, and factories in the world could be run for the cost of sunshine and some basic materials. With such a system in place, the cost to support a human life would drop to zero, and people would no longer need to work to survive. Is such a world possible? It may be a long way out, but I believe it’s possible.

I wanted to inspire people to use 3D printers to build real robots, so I built this car — I call it the Scout — to show off some of the 3D-printed robotics concepts I’ve been developing. First, the car isn’t a weakling. It can take repeated jumps and crashes with no damage. That’s important to show people that this works in the real world, not just on a workbench. If it does break, it’s easy to repair in minutes, thanks to its snap-together design. And the design is open source, so it can mature over time and inspire new variants. It uses a minimum of non-printed parts — only the tires, bearings, motors, batteries, and electronics — and it doesn’t even use screws, because they aren’t necessary and would only add complexity. (Plus, shunning screws makes it a harder problem, which I like!)

Ultimately, the 3D printed Scout is part of a broader robotics construction kit I am building. The wireless radio in the car and remote is my own design — a board called Flutter. Flutter runs Arduino code and has a built-in wireless radio with 1-kilometer range. Since it runs Arduino, the car can be modified with lights, sensors, speakers, and more. I plan on adding an OLED display to my remote control to show me telemetry data on the car like speed, RPM, and battery level. Beyond the wireless boards, I hope to develop motor control and battery management boards for robots as well, so that one coherent open source system can be used to build almost any robot.

Assembling the Scout car is easy, and only takes a few minutes. Printing the parts, however, is still a real commitment. Currently it’s over 24 hours of print time, though I think it could be done in under 10 hours with a large-nozzle 3D print head like the E3D Volcano.