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Daily Drip

Coming Up Next: 3D-Printed, Driverless Cars

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Man if that headline didn’t grab you, you’re a real stone cold killer. But obviously it did, since you’re here. We’ll go ahead and elaborate.

First off, Baidu’s CEO Robin Li stated in Beijing last week that driverless cars could be a reality on the streets of China in just three to five years. That’s a whole lot faster than China’s information technology minister predicted (a week prior, he said it would take eight to ten years).

“I’m more optimistic than him,” Robin Li said. “I think it will come sooner.”

Baidu is already teaming up with local manufacturers to launch a car in 2019 with a “high degree of autonomy.” Li explained the phrasing to press:

“For example, on a Beijing to Shanghai trip, as long as you stay on the highway, you will not have to worry about anything. You can eat hot pot or sing inside while you’re waiting to arrive.”

That’s already pretty futuristic and badass, but even more surprising is Li’s prediction that “totally autonomous” cars will hit the road in three to five years. If there’s anyone who can be making these kinds of claims, it’s Baidu. The “Chinese Google” has already set up a $1.5 billion fund for developing self-driving technology, plus they manage an open platform to help designers and builders get hands-on experience. In other words, the ecosystem they’re building for this stuff is wild, and endorsed by the heavy hands of the central government.

Second up is the dark horse XEV, and their ultra-cheap 3D-printed car, the LSEV (pictured up top). Media reports on the car’s price range from $7,500 to $10,500, but one thing is certain: people are psyched. After all, the LSEV could be the world’s first mass produced 3D-printed car; maybe even the largest-scale application to date of 3D-printing in manufacturing.

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The vehicle is a collaboration between Italian startup XEV and the Chinese 3D-printing studio Polymaker. It bites a lot of its style from General Motors’ Baojun E100. But weighing in at 992 pounds, the LSEV is lighter than a Formula One car, and at its price point, there’s definitely good reason to be curious. Its top speed is only 43 mph with a range of 90 miles, but the car could spell change for China’s buyers, as well as for manufacturers worldwide.

“Although this new vehicle attracts much attention, this conference is not just about launching and exhibiting the car,” the two companies explained at a press conference in Shanghai. “It is more about how the 3D printing technology brings revolutionary changes to automotive manufacturing industry. This car, named LSEV, could be the milestone product in the adoption of 3D printing into mainstream production.”

Excluding the chassis, glass, and seats, the car is almost entirely 3D-printed. It allowed the car to be created in 3 – 12 months, compared to the standard 3 – 5 years. It has only 57 total parts, compared to the standard 2000+.

And now to bring it all back, the first deliveries are scheduled to go out in Europe and Asia in 2019, right as Robin Li is whipping out his highly-autonomous cars. So in spite of this outlandish headline, it looks like both self-driving, and 3D-printed cars are real possibilities, and might be closer than we realize.

Adan Kohnhorst
Adan Kohnhorst is a Shanghai-based writer, producer, and multimedia artist, and the Associate Editor at RADII. His work has been featured in publications such as Maxim and the Chinese-language StreetVoice, and he’s an active member of the hip hop and DIY music scenes in Shanghai, NYC, and Dallas. He learned Mandarin in high school so he could train at the Shaolin Temple, but now just uses it to interview rappers. He blogs about China and Asia on Instagram: @this.is.adan