29 Jun 2016
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The Latest Local Motor: A Self-Driving Bus

Carmaker Jay Rogers (MBA 2007) brings 24-year-old designer’s vision to life

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(photo by Local Motors)

The Jetsonian era may be upon us. A recent NPR piece details how 24-year-old Colombia native Edgar Sarmiento worked with Local Motors to build a vehicle called Olli—a self-driving electric minibus.

Sarmiento’s design came in response to a challenge Local Motors—which is led by Jay Rogers (MBA 2007)—posted to its co-creation community: build an urban public transportation system. It’s all part of the company’s unique design model:

"Most of our vehicles are designed by people who don't work for us," says Justin Fishkin, chief strategy officer. "We haven't used an idea from a 6-year-old yet, but I bet you in the next decade, there will be an idea from a young person that ends up in one of our cars."

What the designers get in return are royalties: a winner's payment, plus, if the vehicle gets commercialized, a 1 percent to 2 percent royalty off the top price of each item sold. Rogers' plan is to also split another 1 percent to 2 percent among key community members who help improve the design.

How long did it take to build a game-changing transportation solution?

Rogers says that from the moment Sarmiento's winning design challenge entry was green-lighted for production, it took Local Motors 2 1/2 months to line up the suppliers, finish the design and get going on 3-D-printing of the parts.

"From the time when we put all the parts on the floor and said, 'We're going to build it,' " Rogers says, "to build the first two, it took two weeks."

Readers of the Alumni Bulletin may remember Rogers from our September 2015 cover story, where he offers evidence that self-driving have been on his mind for some time.

“We need to have a breakout success,” Rogers says as he makes the drive back to his home in Knoxville—site of Local Motors’ first storefront and future site of another microfactory. “We’re not going to disrupt the automotive industry without a serious breakout success.”

What does that look like?

“I want to be the first company to put a production autonomous vehicle on the road.” Local Motors is working on it, he says. Rogers spends a few minutes laying out exactly what a driverless car could look like, how it should be engineered, and how it could be produced.

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Class of MBA 2007, Section G
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