Honda just revealed a new “short range ‘Micro Commuter’ electric vehicle” that applies a variety of interesting ideas and technologies to the world of automobile production, including 3D printing. The super-tiny EV made its formal debut at this year’s CEATEC trade show in Japan, and is designed as a delivery vehicle for the Japanese bakery Toshimaya.
In case you were unaware, CEATEC (Combined Exhibition of Advanced Technologies) is an annual tech-heavy trade fair similar to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) here in the U.S.
The micro commuter uses a pipe frame chassis sourced from Honda as the underlying structure. On top of this you’ll find exterior body panels and a cargo area created by a 3D printer. Providing the go are the same electric drive components as were used in the MC- β (Micro Commuter Beta), another single-seater prototype that was revealed back in 2014.
That means this new micro-mover gets a maximum of 15 horsepower thanks to a lithium-ion battery pack. Charge times look like seven hours from a 100-volt outlet, and less than three hours when plugged into a 200-volt outlet.
Total range is capped at around 50 miles, which might seem low, but remember, this is a delivery vehicle, which means it’s got a pretty fixed A-to-B schedule. Seating capacity is limited to just the driver, with space in back to accommodate Toshimaya’s various confections.
To produce the new micro commuter and create those nifty 3D printed panels, Honda partnered with Kabuku Inc., a Japanese firm that specializes in digital fabrication technology. Honda also says it employed an open innovation model during development (basically sourcing ideas both internally and externally), and that the underlying structure uses a variable design platform.
Why it matters
This new micro commuter combines several different ideas and technologies to create something that looks to the future of automobile manufacturing.
The open innovation model is a great starting place, as it allows outside sources to add ideas and critique existing designs before anything is actually built. It’s very much the right fit for the information age – old models basically employed a team of experts in a closed system, creating a disconnect from the product and the end user right from the get go. Conversely, the open innovation model is immediately interconnected.
3D printing (also called additive manufacturing) is the perfect complement to the open innovation model. This technology truly levels the playing field with respect to production capabilities. Rather than manufacturing every part of a vehicle in a large, expensive factory, 3D printers allow almost anyone to produce components (and sometimes, entire vehicles) anywhere they want – at the office, in a shed, in your living room, etc. Local Motors demonstrated this capability to dramatic effect when it printed and assembled a car on the floor of the COBO Center at the Detroit Auto Show in 2015.
This technology truly levels the playing field with respect to production capabilities. Rather than manufacturing every part of a vehicle in a large, expensive factory, 3D printers allow almost anyone to produce components (and sometimes, entire vehicles) anywhere they want.
Then there’s the variable design platform that provides the underlying structure. With this platform as the base, users can customize their vehicle to any number of specifications, whether its hauling cookies, people, or, as they say in the parlance of our times, hauling ass.
Finally, the EV powertrain is icing on the cake. Sure, 15 horsepower and 50 miles per charge are rather uninspiring figures, but remember, this is a workhorse. This thing is supposed to get the goods to the destination on time, nothing more, nothing less, and in that respect, that underwhelming powertrain is the perfect fit.
Now all Honda has to do is throw on some autonomous driving capabilities, maybe a drone or two on the roof, and its future delivery EV will be complete.
Micro Commuter Vehicle Specifications
Honda has developed a short range ‘Micro Commuter’ electric vehicle for use by Japanese confectionary maker, Toshimaya. The car is a joint development with Kabuku Inc., and is based on an open innovation model which incorporates the idea of variable design platform. The car was unveiled at CEATEC Japan 2016.
The vehicle uses a chassis constructed from Honda’s rigid but lightweight pipe frame structure, and 3D printing techniques have been used to create the exterior panels and luggage space. The Micro Commuter is powered by Honda’s Micro EV technology, designed for short-range trips up to approximately 80 km (50 miles) and is used on the MC- β ultra compact EV in Japan.
This unique car differs from other examples of Honda micro EVs in providing space for a driver only and a generous space to carry deliveries of sweet treats. It will conduct local deliveries of Toshiyama’s most famous product, dove shaped shortbread, ‘Hato sablé’’.