Local Motors’ Parent Firm Receives $15M Investment for Autonomous 3D Printed Shuttle, Olli

Founded in 2007, Local Motors is a ground mobility company that’s focused on developing methods of designing and building transportation. The company runs microfactories in its home state of Arizona, as well as Tennessee, Maryland, and Berlin, and has used 3D printing to make several vehicles, such as the Strati, the LM3D Swim, and the electric, self-driving Olli shuttle. Olli has been successfully deployed in a number of places around the world, including Saudi Arabia, Germany, Italy, Washington D.C., Ohio, New York, California, and more.

Turin, Italy: Through May of 2020, employees and guests of the UN ITC-ILO campus were able to take a ride on Olli, while the self-driving vehicle gathered valuable data and insight from operating in real urban conditions.

Local Motors is actually one of two subsidiaries under parent company LM Industries (LMI), which calls itself the world’s first digital vehicle manufacturer and was named to Fast Company’s 2020 list of the World’s Most Innovative Companies for Shaping the Future of Mobility this spring. LMI has just announced that it received $15 million in funding from Mirai Creation Fund II, which is managed by Japanese asset management firm SPARX Group Co., Ltd and invests in innovative technologies in the fields of robotics, intelligent technologies, hydrogen-economy technologies, electrification, and new materials.

“Local Motors has a unique advantage to quickly deliver impactful products that can revolutionize the automotive and mobility industry. At a time when the world is changing faster than ever, we’re thrilled to be working with a company that can evolve with it,” Seiji Miyasaka, President of SPARX Group’s US subsidiary and new Local Motors board member SPARX Capital Investments, Inc., said in a press release.

Since Local Motors began series production for the latest iteration of the Olli—the third generation Olli 2.0—LMI says that there’s been a “significant resurgence” in interest from people looking for safe, reliable transportation.

“We share a dream with SPARX Group to completely reimagine the mobility and automotive industry, with the goal to truly move society forward in a profound way. Delivering innovative and locally relevant vehicles and mobility solutions has been at the core of our company from the beginning, and we look forward to pushing the industry to be a more clean, customer-centric business,” Jay Rogers, the Co-Founder and CEO of Local Motors, explained in the release. “SPARX’s investment, which includes Toyota Motor Corporation and Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation as seed LPs for the Mirai Creation Fund II, proves that our commitment to low-speed autonomy and digital manufacturing can make a direct impact in the world through cleaner manufacturing and better mobility experiences for all.”

The funding comes two years after Local Motors secured over $1 billion in financing for Olli customers from sustainable transportation leasing company Xcelerate and Elite Transportation Services. This latest $15 million raise from SPARX will be used to move product development along for the autonomous 3D printed Olli, as well as drive production and deployment for the shuttle, getting it to the consumers and customers looking to change up local mobility in a major way.

This is all well and good, but we had some questions. Over the years, LMI has changed its direction multiple times, focusing on both 3D printed public transportation and private passenger cars, open source vehicles, and even a crowdsourcing design site for branded competitions through its global community of designers and engineers, Launch Forth, which is also the company’s social media and co-development platform. We wondered if perhaps LMI raised this $15 million to pay the bills so it could keep trucking, especially during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. So we reached out to Rogers to ask about some of the company’s developments in regards to a possible change of focus.

“Throughout the course of the pandemic, Local Motors has been incredibly nimble and adaptable to our new constantly-evolving reality,” Rogers told 3DPrint.com in an email. “Luckily, our microfactories and 3D-printing manufacturing process gives us a competitive edge to be especially adaptable. Today, we are committed to delivering innovative and locally relevant vehicles and other mobility solutions that have been consistent with our company vision since its origin. Now, as we assess a future throughout and beyond the pandemic, our current focus is to continue commercializing Olli through strategic deployments with key partners in our priority communities.”

With the focus clearly to be on Olli for the near future, we wondered if LMI would be pursuing personal 3D printed vehicles any longer, or would instead dedicate its resources solely to forms of mass transit.

“As the world’s first and only digital vehicle manufacturer, we remain committed to leveraging one of the world’s largest 3D printers and our expertise to drive innovation around additive and subtractive manufacturing. The speed and adaptability of 3D-printing allows us to be incredibly responsive to customers’ constantly changing needs, so thankfully we will always be in a position to meet demand,” Rogers told us.

That doesn’t directly answer the question of whether or not LMI will stop 3D printing personal vehicles in lieu of mass transit solutions, but it seems like Rogers is confident that the company could focus on both if needed. We also asked what the company’s current financial situation was like, and if LMI has been generally profitable in its other projects.

“We were thrilled to announce the capital raise, and we look forward to continuing to build off of it to drive product development, production and expansion of Olli,” Rogers told 3DPrint.com. “Throughout the course of the pandemic, we have launched Olli in locations such as Jacksonville, Florida and Ghent, Belgium, with more international and domestic deployments planned for later this year and into 2021. While we do not disclose our revenue or profitability metrics as a private company, we remain focused on creating shareholder value that aligns with our business plan.”

Finally, while writing this story, we also noticed that the Launch Forth URL automatically redirects to the Local Motors website, so we wondered if that site was now defunct.

“Like many other companies over the past several months, Local Motors has been forced to make difficult decisions to prioritize immediate business needs,” Rogers told us. “While we did shut down Launch Forth and launchforth.io, co-creation and community remain at the core of our company. We are committed to being an open innovation company that leverages an ecosystem of innovators to consistently meet the demands of our customers, and deliver the products they need most.”

One thing is for sure: no matter what exactly is going on behind the scenes with LMI, Local Motors is continuing to address the demand for clean, safe autonomy. The company has been working hard this year, despite the pandemic, to validate the safety of its vehicles and prove that their 3D printed structure performs just as well during a crash test as vehicles made with conventional manufacturing. This summer, it also announced a partnership with Florida-based Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) provider Beep, and is planning to deploy hundreds of its autonomous vehicles there in the near future.

“Our partnership with Beep, improved crash testing process, and distinct manufacturing method puts Local Motors in a unique position capable of meeting consumers’ constantly changing needs around the world today and in the future. This funding will help propel our vision forward, and continue making a difference in our communities,” Rogers said.

(Source: Business Insider / Images: Local Motors)

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