AI Takes the Wheel

What if designing and building the car of your dreams was as simple as building zany fortresses in Fortnite or creative worlds in Minecraft?

Hackrod, a digital automotive manufacturing startup based in California, wants to do that and “empower the everyman to create the vehicle of his dreams or needs.” The company will use a potpourri of artificial intelligence, generative design, virtual reality, 3-D printing, and a cloud-based supply chain to achieve this goal.

“We believe the process of designing and building a car can be simplified to the level of today’s complex video games. The interface can be similar where you are testing options, taking the car on a virtual race track, competing with digital peers,” said Slade Gardner, Hackrod’s chief technology officer, who is also the founder of Big Metal Additive.

The 3-D printed speedster La Bandita is the first product of the Hackrod platform. It will be designed in mixed reality, engineered by artificial intelligence, and made with advanced manufacturing techniques.

“Our vision for La Bandita is that we think the digital age is going to bring forward AI-based tools that allow engineering to occur in some cases by people without an engineering degree,” said Gardner.

“There will be digital assistants in the background guiding and providing assistance to the design and validation perspective. There will be tools where people can maneuver through the conceptual design process to achieve a car that they really like,” Gardner explained. “You can then make modifications based on options provided to you by an intelligent software platform.

The components to make the car will be available so it can be configured in many different ways. Many customized larger parts will be 3-D printed. Once all these custom parts are available, the car will be assembled.

“We think once the platform is proven, the engineering validations and protocols for other classes of products will be brought into the same platform,” Gardner said.

Hackrod has partnered with the Siemens Digital Innovation Platform to develop the La Bandita. Siemens will provide a range of PLM Software tools, including the NX software and the cloud-based software Solid Edge Portal, which will enable Hackrod to rapidly produce a test version of the speedster.

Hackrod’s next big step is to build the car with a concierge version of the platform that will use experts to direct the digital and engineering steps of building the car. “Then our artificial personalities are going to start working on the decision-making process to allow the continuous flow of digital information,” he said.

Gardner believes Hackrod’s new industrial design methodology will enable a much more customized and personal product design for future sophisticated mechatronics systems. When realized, engineers working on it will share the power of engineering and manufacturing with colleagues who don’t have an engineering degree.

“That’s where we will see a lot of customization and personalization,” he said.

As Hackrod moves closer to its goal, it’s time to find your favorite Hot Wheels that could someday race off the road.

Chitra Sethi is managing editor at Mechanical Engineering magazine.

Reprinted from Mechanical Engineering magazine.

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