Local Motors Places $7.3M Order for Protean Electric Motors

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In a three-year contract with British electric motor manufacturer Protean Electric, Local Motors has agreed to order thousands of Protean’s in-wheel drive motors, a deal valued at $7.3 million. These systems will be installed on Local Motors’ Olli 2.0 autonomous shuttles, which are 80 percent 3D printed.

Though the original Olli released in 2016 was developed by Local Motors and IBM, the Olli 2.0 unveiled in 2019 is driven by Robotic Research’s AutoDrive, an “autonomy kit” that “allows the vehicle to think, perceive and navigate in diverse, mixed-traffic environments.” And while the first Olli was only 30 percent 3D printed, its successor is 80 percent 3D printed using the Big Area Additive Manufacturing system from Cincinnati Inc. The company also says that the polymers used to construct Olli’s body are 100 percent recycled.

A rendering of Protean’s in-wheel motor. Image courtesy of Protean Electric.

The motors for the system were also swapped out, with the Olli 1.0 featuring axle motors, while the newer model relies on Protean’s wheel hub motors. In-wheel motors are meant to increase passenger space, while also improving vehicle range and reliability. One clear benefit from this move has been the ability for Olli 2.0 to fit two wheelchairs in the vehicle that can also turn around and exit.

“Now in live deployments around the world, Olli is truly changing the way that we look at transportation, providing a smart, safe, sustainable option for getting around,” said Vikrant Aggarwal, President of Local Motors. “One of the keys in driving broad-scale adoption of electric autonomous vehicles is delivering an exceptional passenger experience, and the ProteanDrive in-wheel motors play a huge role in that experience, providing a smooth, quiet, and reliable ride while allowing us to optimise vehicle design to better address real-world use cases.”

The financial impetus for this new deal may be coming in part from Local Motors’ recent round of $15 million in funding, received in fall of 2020. The company is now pushing its autonomous vehicle (AV) platform around the world. In June, for instance, it established a partnership with software developer door2door to prep Olli 2.0 for further use across Europe. This came just after Germany was poised to adopt legislation for the use of some AVs on public roads.

Protean is an interesting company, founded in 2008 and acquired by Saab’s successor company NEVS (National Electric Vehicle Sweden) in 2019. NEVS is, in turn, owned by Evergrande Group, China’s second-largest property developer by sales. But, while Local Motors would like to have operations in China, the company so far has no sales there, according to an interview with electrive.com.

Olli 2.0, the mostly 3D printed, autonomous electric shuttle. Image courtesy of Local Motors.

Protean noted that there is a growing demand for battery electric vehicles, with BloombergNEF suggesting that it will grow from three percent of global automotive sales in 2020 to 28 percent in 2030 and 58 percent in 2040. The firm also points out that 17 percent of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) come from road transportation. While electrification of vehicles is crucial to staving off the worst effects of global warming, there may need to be more significant changes to our socioeconomic infrastructure in order to prevent the world from tipping past 1.5°C above pre-industrial temperatures. For instance, there may not be enough lithium or cobalt to meet demand for these vehicles.

By switching from personal vehicles, for which it used to be known, to shuttles, Local Motors may have made a smart move, as mass transit may be crucial to reducing GHGs associated with road transportation.

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