If you ask city dwellers to identify their top sources of day-to-day stress, traffic will likely be high up on the list for many of them. Urban rush hour traffic can make you want to tear your hair out – the constant starting and stopping, the horn blasts from other irritated drivers, the knowledge that while you’re sitting in one place, your car is burning through gas without taking you any closer to your dinner. Even short commutes can be turned into hours-long ordeals due to urban traffic congestion. Environmental concerns aside, we need to develop alternative ways for city dwellers to travel distances that are too far to walk but short enough to make car travel hardly seem worth it.
Floatility is working on it. The startup has introduced the “e-floater,” a three-wheeled electric scooter that allows users to ride effortlessly while standing, much like a Segway. Unlike a Segway, however, it’s solar-powered. The lightweight scooter’s onboard battery takes about two hours to charge, and the 250-watt motor gives it a range of about 15 km, or 9.3 miles. It also weighs only about 26 pounds, allowing it to “float” down the street. Also unlike a Segway, the e-floater is largely 3D printed. Using technology from Stratasys, Floatility was able to significantly save time and money to produce a working prototype.
“The need to build prototypes that exactly resembled the final product and that would enable us to test everything thoroughly was vital to the successful launch of this product,” said Oliver Risse, Floatility’s founder. “3D printing was essential in this regard as it allowed the team to physically test the design and concept of e-floater as if it were the final product. This not only sped up the product development cycle, but dramatically reduced our product development costs. We would have not been able to take this product from concept to launch without using Stratasys 3D printing solutions to develop a working prototype – it’s as simple as that.”
The scooter’s “soft” components, like wheels, grips and lights, were produced with Stratasys’ Objet500 Connex3 Color Multi-material 3D Printer, while the tougher elements were created with a Stratasys Fortus 450 3D Production System. According to Risse, using 3D printing technology was vastly superior to silicon molding, which would have been the other option for creating the prototype.
“This was not ideal for a number of reasons,” he said. “Not only would it have entailed an assembly of up to 20 parts, but the costs would have been significantly higher and the production time would have been double to that achievable with 3D printing.”
The e-floater is not only intelligently designed, it’s, well, intelligent. Using Internet of Things technology, the scooter is able to communicate to its owner in real time where it is located and what condition it’s in. This also feeds into Floatility’s plan of starting up networks of vehicle-sharing programs in major cities. You may have heard of bike-sharing programs, which have been implemented in some cities: bicycles are docked at certain points within the city, allowing participants to ride them between docking stations to take a chunk out of their normal walking commute. Floatility envisions a similar network using the e-floater, and plans to begin testing the idea soon in Hamburg and Singapore, where its two main offices are located.
An announcement has not yet been made regarding when the e-floater will be available on the market, or what its retail cost will be. It’s safe to say, though, that the use of 3D printing should drive down its cost and make it available sooner rather than later.
“The e-floater is a perfect example of how 3D printing enables designers and inventors to turn their concepts into fully-operational products quickly and cost-effectively,” said Andy Middleton President of Stratasys EMEA. “In this case, the blend of both our core 3D printing technologies proved instrumental in bringing another exciting and innovative product to market and, as a company, we’re delighted to play a part in helping Floatility – and other start-up businesses like them – bring their ideas to products.”
Let’s hear your thoughts on this new form of transportation in the Floatility forum thread on 3DPB.com.