Oct 5, 2016 | By Alec
The city of Prague in the Czech Republic is stunningly beautiful but – as is the case in so many European cities – getting around can be very challenging. Whichever way you look at it, those medieval city centers just weren’t built for cars, trains and trams. While bikes are a good alternative, they only complicate matters for the remaining drivers. But 3D printing could offer a solution. Czech designer Petr Chládek has just unveiled his very own 3D printed electric car: the 4ekolka. Thanks to a very efficient battery and a top speed of 55 km/h (approximately 34 mph), this compact two-seater is ideal for use in the tiny streets of Prague.
Of course this is by no means the first 3D printed car in the world. The Arizona-based Local Motors and their world’s first road-ready 3D printed car are leading the way in pioneering 3D printed cars and commercializing them, but just last month we compiled a list of 24 other companies, researchers and startups working on 3D printed vehicles as well.
But while most of those are cars are simply exploratory projects, Chládek designed his with a very clear purpose in mind: efficient transportation. “The basic idea behind this project was that all current forms of transportation around town are inefficient,” he argues. Public transport is limited to a list of fixed locations and times, and cost users a lot of time to get around. Around sixty percent of all cars, in contrast, only carry a single person around. “Is it really necessary to transport 1000+ kg of iron around for a single person?” Chládek wondered. Taxis are dreadfully expensive, while motorcycles, scooters and bikes do not protect users from collisions or from the weather.
At the same time, European studies have shown that around 80 percent of all car drivers do not go further than 50 km on a daily basis – to and from work, basically. “For the city we need something small, inexpensive, safe, usable year-round, for a maximum of two people, with a max. speed of 55 km/h (~34 mph),” Chládek concluded. And if possible, it should be practical and elegant at the same time. That, in a nutshell, became the 3D printed 4ekolka car.
Now you might be thinking that that’s no reason to resort to 3D printing, but the technology actually greatly reduced prototyping costs, while minimizing weight and material consumption at the same time. The vehicle also looks fantastic, and can fit into very small spaces. While it hasn’t been specified how long development took, Chládek did reveal that it cost around CZK 300,000 (~$12,000) to fabricate the 4ekolka – about half of that going towards the batteries and energy management system.
But one thing is certain: the car itself is extremely efficient. Though its top speed is ‘only’ 55 km/h, it runs on LiFePO4 batteries with a capacity of 200Ah at 48V (totaling around 9.6 kWh) that can travel around 200 km (124 miles) on a single charge. And thanks to the vehicle’s low weight, Chládek’s 4ekolka is about two to three times more efficient than competing electric vehicles – and even more efficient than non-electric cars. While unsuited for the highway, it will perfectly and efficiently get two people from A to B in crowded and tiny city streets. If you’re going to get a second car, it might as well be an efficient one.
What’s more, Chládek believes that this is an exercise in sustainable transportation development as well. “Public awareness about electric cars is greatly distorted,” he emphasized. “Electric vehicles can be used with high efficiency and energy can ride without producing emissions and significantly reduce smog load in the Czech basin.” he adds. Indeed, he believes that electric vehicles have the potential to change transportation as we know it – to do for transportation what smartphones have done for communication.
Of course those goals are hampered by the higher purchase costs of electric cars, but even that is compensated over a period of several years. What’s more, the EU is currently supporting electric driving in various ways to make the technology more attractive in Europe. In Prague, right now, electric vehicles can park anywhere for just 100 CZK a year – an absolute steal in a city where parking is very expensive.
In fact, the residents of Prague might have seen the 4ekolka driving around already. Though only a prototype, Chládek managed to get permission to drive his 3D printed car on public roads in and around Prague for testing. You can see it in action below. While no timeline for commercialization has been set out yet, that is Chládek’s next target. And if the vehicle’s efficiency and looks are anything to go by, why shouldn’t it be a success?
Posted in 3D Printing Application
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