Did you know that 80% of the 2015 Hackaday Prize finalists are powered by Atmel? With only days left until we learn which project will walk away with this year’s crown, we recently sat down with each of the potential winners to get to know them better.
The problem that LUKA EV is attempting to solve is a rather big one. Mindful that internal combustion engine cars pump billions of tons of pollutants into the atmosphere each year, this group of Makers has set out to devise an open source platform that’ll unlock the possibility for cost-competitive, all-electric automobiles to be built and sold locally, on a global scale. The brainchild of MW Motors, the electric vehicle — which should land somewhere in the ballpark of $22,445 when all is said and done — is capable of achieving top speeds of around 80 mph and a range of over 185 miles. Although the concept of an e-car is a far cry from new, using in-wheel hub motors to power it isn’t so ordinary.
What’s more, this project will introduce a revolutionary technology to the production line, reducing weight and eliminating a great deal of unnecessary parts along the way. LUKA EV will feature head, side, indicator and brake lights, door handles, wing mirrors, windshield wipers and everything else you’d find on its more conventional counterparts. As for charging, it can be plugged into any household wall socket and juiced back up in a few hours.
We had the chance to sit down with MW Motors founder Maurice Ward to get his thoughts on the project, the Hackaday Prize and what the future has in store for the groundbreaking platform.
Atmel: What is LUKA EV?
Maurice Ward: The LUKA EV is an attempt to build the first highway capable electric car driven by in-wheel hub motors.
Atmel: How did you come to the idea for such a vehicle? Moreover, what inspired you to enter the contest with your project?.
MW: We’ve been curious for a while about why no one has made a car using in-wheel hub motors. And the mission of the Hackaday Prize matched perfectly with our philosophy: we want to “build things that matter,” particularly in the so-called green space.
Atmel: Speaking about the Hackaday Prize’s theme, how are you hoping LUKA EV changes the world?
MW: The goal with LUKA EV is to prove that electric cars can compete with Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) cars with no subsidies. If a group of Makers can build a production car that can compete well with established auto manufactures in terms of price and quality, we will be able to demonstrate that our concept has merit. Aside from that, open sourcing pretty much everything allows anyone to follow along, and if what we do works, anyone can set up a production site in their shed — or build a massive factory — and easily replicate our process. If hub motors work, cars will be fundamentally lighter. This matters. Lightness is critical. Getting EU certification will ensure that our documentation is of such a high standard that Makers, designers and car enthusiasts alike will be able to use the instructions and construct cars on the platform themselves.
Atmel: What’s different about LUKA EV’s process opposed to those employed by car manufactures? What’s your vision for the next five years? Where do you see the project going or what/who would you hope will pick up the project and use it?
MW: As eluded to above, it’s the world’s first production car that utilizes in-wheel hub motors — that’s pretty different. In the next five years, our vision is to not only reveal that the method works, but to become EU certified and eventually sell some vehicles. Once that’s achieved, we hope many other people will begin building the car or others based on the LUKA platform. The more people that create a car and share it on the platform, the better it will get. We hope big car makers do something similar. Our mission is for electric cars to compete on a level playing field with an ICE car; as a result, the e-car should be as good as and as affordable as today’s common set of wheels.
We do not mind if individuals, small companies or major multinationals copy our ideas. We hope everyone is inspired by our project. We have already proven that a car can be designed, built and made highway legal in under a year for very little money. Everyone said that was impossible. We are not just making cars, we are proving that anything is still possible with a minimal budget yet rich in commitment. Great things can still come out of sheds even if governments do their best to tilt everything toward big organizations.
Atmel: As we know, the Maker Movement has opened the door for everyone from hobbyists to tech enthusiasts to hardcare engineers to tinker around. What’s your personal background?
MW: Personally, I have owned a company for the last 20 years. It does diverse things, primarily warehousing and transportation but some transformational manufacturing as well. My experience has shown me that it’s difficult to do anything in big companies. “The organization” (in general) is great at some things. However, bringing a good idea to life quickly is not something an organization is particularly good at. This is especially true if the idea happens to be something large, such as a car.
There is a team of people involved with the LUKA EV. In addition to myself, there are four guys who work at the IT department in my company, each of whom have donated their time to the project. Various other employees and friends have also contributed their time, ideas and expertise. We have now employed one full-time person and one contractor to work full-time on the project.
Atmel: What are some of the core pieces of hardware embedded?
MW: Well being that it’s a car, there’s a lot of hardware! The chassis, the body, the battery pack, the in-wheel hub motors, steering, suspension, brakes, the list goes on. Much of our work has been spent designing and creating the control systems for the various bits of hardware. For example, the BSM we designed uses 16 Arduino Pro Minis (ATmega328).
Atmel: What hardware products or projects are you also building at the moment?
MW: In addition to the LUKA EV, we are working on four other projects. A wind turbine, a solar generator, a foldable ocean freight container and a graphene super capacitor. All projects (bar the super caps) are described on Hackaday.io.
Atmel; Why pick Atmel chips?
MW: They were the obvious choice. We have years of positive experience working with Arduino. It is a very good starting point. It is an easy way to get great results quickly.
Atmel: What advice would you offer other Makers when getting into hardware and embarking on a new project?
MW: The number one thing is to have fun. Any other advice really depends on the project you’re involved in. If it’s just for enjoyment, just make sure you have fun. If you;re setting out to make an actual product that may be sold someday, think about the end game before you start. Think about hard things like certification. Think about serial or mass production. You need to design a product for mass production. Designing a functional prototype that has not considered for mass production means you have to start at the very beginning again if you want to actually produce it. Oh, and…. Have a budget and stick to it! Projects can get terribly expensive.
Aside from that, be inclusive and try to build a team. Yet, keep in mind that someone has to have the vision and be the leader or else nothing will ever happen. Teams sometime just mean a talking shop. Remember: building is about doing stuff, not talking about stuff!
Also, jot down a list of objectives before embarking on the project. Stick to them like they are a religion. If yo let one slip, suddenly they all slip… Getting a project finished is more about project management than about your actual building skills. Do not pay too much attention to negative comments online. Most of these come from people who have never made anything before. Just know that whatever it is you are doing, it is likely that someone thinks what you are doing is amazing. Do the project for you and for those who think it is amazing — even if that is just one other person!
Atmel: Any plans to launch a startup and perhaps even take to Kickstarter/Indiegogo?
MW: We definitely won’t be launching a Kickstarter or any other crowdfunding campaign. We are not looking for any investors at this time. However, we have already started a company. Another project goal is to show that things can be done on a shoestring budget. We certainly do not want to spend other peoples money. We have seen too many car projects that burn through hundreds of millions with no results. We will prove that cars can be built and sold without the need for massive equity, and will do so without any debt. Whatever we do will be done with our own money — and hopefully with some Hackady prize money!
Atmel: We couldn’t have planned that segue if we tried. So, if you do win the grand prize, are heading to space or taking the cash?!
MW: We have to take the cash. Cash will be used to ensure that the platform can be maintained for years to come.
Atmel: Anything else you want to tell us and our followers?
MW: The knowledge of the entire world is available to you via the Internet. Our car build would have been impossible without it. The body of our car came from Gaming. We bought a 3DS file for USD $100. That was the body fully designed in 3D. That probably saved us two years and possibly millions of dollars in design costs. The web allowed us find off-the-shelf suppliers of almost all components implemented in the LUKA EV. Suppliers from all over the globe are now available at the touch of a button. We’re lucky that we have 3D printers, welding, FRP, hardware and software skills. But, even if you do not, all these things can be found in seconds with a simple Google search. If you know nothing about a topic, you can be up to speed in a day even on complex topics just be reading all the scientific data that is freely available. In other words, the web enables normal people in sheds access to information and a supply chain that multinational companies could only have dreamed about 30 years ago. The Internet makes everything possible and it takes away all the excuses.
HaD should be encouraged. I see governments all over the world funding research. Some of the papers I read that are the result of hundreds of millions of dollars in “collaborative research” are a little sad. The research takes five years and the result is that they conducted a bunch of surveys, and possibly did some deeply scientific, non-practical research. I wonder what would happen if the Maker community got support like that? I hope more and more people join Hackaday, as it will help improve basic skills and set the stage for everyday people showcase the things they can make.
Don’t miss our other interviews with fellow HaD Prize finalists Chris Low, OpenBionics, Eric William, Eyedrivomatic, Radu Motisan, Reiner van der Lee and Rory Aronson!