Energy & Sustainability
Open Source at 90 MPH

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BusinessWeek asks, can we build an open source car?

“Inspired by Linux, the OScar project aims to build a car by tapping the knowledge of a volunteer team. It won’t be an easy ride, but their journey is important…

So here’s a question: Can open-source practices and approaches be applied to make hardware, to create tangible and physical objects, including complex ones? Say, to build a car?”Link.

There are hundreds of open source hardware projects going on – just as complex or more so than cars. But cars go on roads, require approvals, it’s a little more than making an open source hardware arduino project. The hot-rod culture shared everything and it was completely common to build a car from scratch in many enthusiast communities in the 50s, that is still going on today.

Here’s a DIY Fuel Injection Conversion using open source engine management – Megasquirt is an affordable, open-source, DIY engine management computer that you assemble yourself. A large community of developer/users provides for constant development, and great free support – Link.

Short answer, of course it can – that doesn’t mean it will happen, or the value/demand is there, but there’s a lot of benefit in an open approach for some hardware and processes.

What do you think? Post in the comments.

From the pages of MAKE:

26 thoughts on “Open Source at 90 MPH

  1. When you get into creating complicated physical objects like automobiles, I imagine you’d find yourself subject to a lot more government regulation than you would making software.

  2. Volkswagons!!!
    The old ones, not the new ones without a soul.
    (I couldn’t resist commenting- that looks like the “Thing” or “Safari”)
    Standards came and went with big gashog American cars (bigger=better), but you can swap out little (200+ lb) air-cooled engines from many decades apart. Almost all parts are reproduced/interchangable/upgradeable. The cult.. er, community- is unbelieveably tight and internet savvy. Someone spots a bus in London when travelling, posts the picture in the forums, and the owner responds in a day. The freemasons weren’t even that tight.

    Read some forums on TheSamba.com and get an idea about what some of these characters do. To see the greatest ‘open source’ car (bus) in action- look at shastasnowtrip.com. Crazy mofos driving busses up mountains offroad in the dead of winter.

    You won’t find a computer in the engine though. Or a radiator. It’s primitively simple and efficient. You can fix a car with a small toolbox… go figure.

  3. Good on them- I’m always terribly frustrated by the cost of an automobile. The technology is a century old- give me a stripped down minimalist car for

  4. I’ve had the same thought (not that I’m an automobile designer or even a mechanic). I was talking to someone who was talking about “shade tree mechanics” that could rebuild a car easily in their backyard and how that was all gone now due to electronics, on board computers, sophisticated braking systems, extremely specific parts requirements, etc. It made me think of something like a dune buggy frame with replaceable exterior panels and some mass produced “old style” engine. It could be open source and infinitely customizable and repairable by almost anyone with basic mechanic skills. Something like a cross between an old Volkswagen and Mad Max.

    The only part I wonder about is whether it could be street legal and licensible with today’s regulations about emissions, safety, fuel economy, etc.

  5. I have a modern VW, and I’d like to say they are far from without a soul. Our community is diluted by those who don’t really want to get their hands dirty, that’s all. Give it time.

    I think OScar is perfectly plausable, despite DOT regulations. A friend of mine has an open source plane, but they’re called “experimental”. He flies an RV-4 (www.vansaircraft.com). As long as you follow the plans, plans that have already met FAA regulations and trials, and stick to approved modifications like various engine sizes, you can cut through a lot of the red tape. Make some major modifications, though, and you have to go through a whole new set of approvals. But if you do that, and it works out, everyone after you is helped out.
    I think DOT certifications are less intense than their FAA counterparts, and would pose less of a problem to the OScar project

  6. I wouldn’t call an RV-4 open source… the plans are quite expensive, and they only allow you to build ONE aircraft.. the license says you are not allowed to resell or give away the plans.

    If I’m wrong, please let me know where the plans are available – I’m stuck on a few parts for my CAD model

  7. it’s a shame to destroy eboy’s wonderful pixel by using jpg compression.
    you either have no sense of aesthetics or simply don’t know gif from jpg.

  8. Although I love the idea in theory, but I don’t think that an open source car would work too well. I’d love to be proven wrong, but the fact remains that cars are a physical object, unlike the 1’s and 0’s in a program. Those 1’s and 0’s can be replicated and transported for very little cost. However, it would take physical resources to ‘compile’ a full vehicle.

    Of course the bulk of the design work could be done on computers, but there will come a time when you have to build and test your first prototypes. Compared to testing cars, testing code is relatively cheap. With that said, I’m sure there are more than a few individuals out there that would be willing to front the costs of the first few test vehicles.

    All in all, open source vehicles would have a separate and unique set of hurdles to overcome when compared to O/S software. I’m not saying that it can’t be done, but it’ll will be a lot tougher than what people think.

  9. I read this article in the dead tree version of MAKE magazine with some interest.

    First and foremost – engineering. Currently I’m building a small robot and writing something in between a book and a tutorial to share (assuming I get done with it.) As I learn the math and related engineering I write a section on it using Open Office’s excellent formula editor.

    It would be a good thing to get all the engineering how-to in one place and in an organized accessible format. It should provide theory and formulas with easy to understand instructions so a non-engineer can just plug numbers into a formula and see what their calculator says. My personal bias is towards a well indexed document but others may prefer a Wiki format.

    In the engineering documentation one section would be titled “Engineering A-arm Suspensions.” Another section would be titled “Engineering with Materials.” Between the two sections there would be enough knowledge to engineer an A-arm suspension that wouldn’t break into pieces during acceleration into a hard corner.

    No corporate sponsorships from any automaker or child corporation of an automaker. The leadership of these corporations easily have enough power to not play nice and get away with it. There may come a time where there is a suitable political/business climate for this sort of collaboration but in my judgement, not yet.

    In America, I think the trick is to find out exactly how much of a commercial car needs to remain so the government still considers it to be a commercial car. That way a person can use the VIN and title of the donor without going astray.

    amp2003: With that said, I’m sure there are more than a few individuals out there that would be willing to front the costs of the first few test vehicles.

    I think in this case one way to go about it would be to distribute the manufacturing. Someone would make an A-Arm, someone else would buy a bearing. There are enough community colleges with metalshops that perhaps some of the items could be fabricated as part of a class. Maybe the final result could be donated to a museum so there’s no question of someone taking unfair ownership of the vehicle.

  10. At least in Ohio, you can title “Self-Assembled” vehicles without too much hassle. Some details:

    http://www.statepatrol.ohio.gov/forms/salvage.pdf

    In a way, there’s already an extensive network of “open source” cars and builders – the Locost community publishes a lot of plans online and people have detailed build logs with extensive photos and such.

    The main difference between software and a car is the obvious one: “compiling” it is far more difficult and time-consuming. Bits in a computer are free, but materials to build a car are not.

    A Locost is a basic, bare-bones vehicle with amazing performance. You’re not going to end up with a competitor to a Lexus building it in your garage, but you’ll (hopefully) get something that’s a hell of a lot of fun.

    No way could it be done in volume for anything approaching reasonable cost: motor vehicle regulations are intense. I think the FAA is easier to work with and more flexible than NHTSA / various BMV’s / etc. Between fuel economy, emissions, and crash test standards, the US car market has put itself outside the realm of the small manufacturer. Hobbyists, though, still have loopholes here and there.

    The UK has better rules and regs for small manufacturers, so you get people like Ariel, Marcos, TVR, and so forth selling low-volume niche cars. To get something like that in the US, someone has to put it together themselves, as an individual, and title it. Cost, naturally, is higher doing it that way.

    Sorry, I sort of strayed there. Hopefully it was a helpful tangent.

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