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Is open source automotive engineering a possibility?

September 21, 2011

I heard a story this morning on NPR’s Morning Edition which piqued my interest.  General Motors and SAIC (Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation, the large state-owned Chinese auto manufacturer) have formed a joint venture for the production of electric vehicles.

I did a bit of reading on the collaboration, including a Wall Street Journal article entitled “General Motors and SAIC Set Electric-Car Joint Venture“.  In short, their  goal is to develop a chassis which can be used as the basis for a variety of different vehicles,  manufactured by both GM and SAIC.

The joint venture is  interesting in its own right as an important development for electric vehicles, but since I’ve been looking at the open source hardware prototyping platform arduino and its varieties (particularly Teagueduino) I began wondering whether the production of electric automobiles might lend itself to open source.

Admittedly producing an automobile is much more capital intensive than producing a single board microcontroller, but there has been a serious hobbyist community of people converting ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) vehicles to electric for quite a few years, so a  base of experimenters is already there  (see the DIY Electric Car Forums).

Theoretically it could work the same as most other open source projects.  An individual or a  team would develop a set of plans for the basic system (chassis and drive train).    Anyone with the motivation and resources could download the plans, modify them, and build based on the plans.  Third parties could also manufacture and market complete cars, components, or kits based on the plans, or use the plans to build a single car for their own use.

I have no background in automotive engineering,  so the whole thing is just speculation and rumination on my part, but the vision  of  a subculture of aspiring open source Henry Fords building prototype electric vehicles in small shops  is very appealing.

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