AutoblogGreen Q&A: Open Source Green Vehicle Project

For the latest AutoblogGreen podcast, I got a hold of some of the people behind the OSGV, a hive-mind green car project. You can listen to our interview in the podcast, and read the transcript of the chat below. I talked to David Lee and Valerie Wilson as a way to get to know at least one of the groups coming to the Alt Car Expo in Santa Monica this weekend. If there's someone else who will be there who you'd like me to corner and ask a question of, email us or leave a note in the comments.

On to the transcript:

: I have got two people in the phone here from the Open Source Green Vehicle Project. They are going to be out at the Santa Monica Alt Car Expo in the 19th and 20th of October and David and Valerie why would you not introduce yourselves and welcome to the AutoblogGreen Podcast.

Valerie: Thank you.

David: Hi, Sebastian. I am the Chairman of the group Society for Sustainable Mobility. It is also operating the Open Source Green Vehicle Project. I have here with me Valerie Wilson.

Valerie: Yes, this is Valerie and I am working in Outreach and liaison for the Society for Sustainable Mobility.

Sebastian: Okay, and the main project that we are going to be speaking about today is the Open Source Green Vehicle Project that was established a couple of years ago in 2005. Tell us a little bit about the project. You have got two main components here. One is that it is open source and the other that is green. What do you like to tell the people about the project and about the car?

David: That is right. We started out as Open Source Green Vehicle a couple of years ago in December 2005. So it is almost two years now. The project was thought out with the vision of revolutionizing the automotive industry and how they approach the development and deployment of these fuel-efficient cars in a nonproprietary manner. Meaning that all of our design data, test data, we would be able to achieve that from the internet and then the volunteers who would like to contribute would be able to go to our system and provide in their expertise as well. Valerie you want to add something?

Valerie: Yes, I think we have the idea that more brains are better than fewer. That there are a lot of scouts there who are having expertise and interest in alternate vehicles, these are all the men.

David: One of the issues that we have seen in the past was there was a huge barrier entry for not just automobiles in general, but also alternative to fuel suppliers also who are having a hard time to break into this market. Our organization is really setting it up so that it would allow them to be able to sell their product better or in the market.

The interview continues after the jump.
Sebastian: And the idea is kind of that you do a lot of the planning, the design, and then what about the actual production of it?

David: Okay, the Plan A is always trying to get the automotive industry involved and actually making and building these vehicles for us because as a non-profit organization, funding is always an issue for us. We are working with some of the larger companies, trying to get them involved but so far they have not so much shown interest yet. We are still working on it.

Sebastian: So do you see a little bit of a competition or do you see it as you are doing something and then you are trying to help them along because the end result are cleaner, better cars?

David: That is correct. Of course some makers are going to have their own concerns about their existing product lines et cetera. Our vehicle is really very ahead of what they have been doing even with the newest. The Kernel vehicle that we are coming up with is actually more advanced than whatever they have from the market today. So aside from working with these big companies and we are also considering working with sort of smaller startups who are significantly more flexible in terms of introducing new product et cetera.

Valerie: In other words the bigger manufacturers have inquired, they have already got their capital invested and they need to maximize their investment. Our idea is different. They are sort of being held to finish their prior products.

David: Now of course the Plan B is always trying to build these cars ourselves, set up a factory ourselves. In that case we will have to work a little bit more.

Sebastian: Yes, so you are able to speak a little bit about these cars to the public and that is something that is coming up at the Santa Monica Show. You have mentioned or I have read about the 100-mile per gallon plus equivalency Kernel Hybrid Electric Vehicle and you are going to have some computer renderings at the show because the car does not exist in the physical form yet, is that correct?

David: Right. At the car show you are going to see quite a few computer rendering of the vehicle itself and also rendering of the chassis that we have designed and also with the administration of the technology that we will be using.

Sebastian: That is a hybrid electric?

David: The baseline model is a purely electric vehicle. It has a minimum amount of battery storage to give you approximately 30-mile range but then there is what we call a Plug and Play Power Source Module that the owner is supposed to buy so that they will keep the vehicle more range.

Now the Power Source Module is a very flexible device. It is actually electrically coupled with the car. It is not mechanically coupled, it is electrically coupled. What that gives you is the ability to adapt to other fuel sources. For example like you have a gasoline-car source module and you want to change it to a diesel or just biodiesel, tomorrow you can do that. You can just go to a garage and have it changed out within a couple of hours. So that is one of the biggest selling points that we have.

Sebastian: Okay, and is that the technology that you hope to bring into the Automotive X Prize?

David: Yes, that would be in the X Prize variants too. Actually, it was pointed out from the Santa Monica Expo last year while we were talking to all of those alternative fuel suppliers like biodiesel suppliers or CNGs.

Sebastian: So it sounds like you kind of are taking where the Green Car market is or the Green Car thinking is these days, which is that there is no silver bullet to get us off of gasoline. There are a lot of different options out there for people and you want to build the car that accepts all of those many different options?

David: We are trying to engineer a silver bullet. We are actually deferring that decision to the future owners of the vehicle so that they can do this from their perspective in terms of availability, prices, et cetera that they can make their own choice in what kind of fuels they want to use.

Sebastian: Obviously, a very appealing notion as we can probably guess by the automakers not having come out with it themselves and the smaller companies also not being able to produce something quite that flexible. I think it is an ambitious goal, but your timeline for this also is quite ambitious. The website talks about having a car hopefully ready for the automotive X Price in 2009 and then the production by 2011. Is that still something that seems reasonable to you when you look at where you at today?

Valerie: Well, I think we have that those are our goals and we are moving towards it in a realistic way. They are going to need these things in place. We need to have agreements with suppliers and other things as time goes on. Of course the X Prize for instance itself, timelines will change but we are working for those particular endpoints.

Sebastian: Where you come to this point is through the work of volunteers. You have almost 150 volunteers? Is that correct? About 140 or 130 or so?

David: Yes, it is about of 140s or 150s worldwide.

Sebastian: What can you tell me about some of those people? Are these just people who think about things on the weekend or do you know who they are? How do these groups come together?

David: Yes, that is exactly what it is, because the people who are interested in contributing a little bit of their knowledge, a lot of them are engineers themselves, some of them are students, and some of them are motorheads. They all want to contribute a little bit to the project, and at the Santa Monica Expo, you are going to see the work that we have aggregated so far as very exciting.

Valerie: I think the most exciting thing is that the technology exists to do what we are talking about doing. It is already there and it just requires assembling it.

Sebastian: Yes, on AutoblogGreen we write about this kind of things they come out all the time and it is frustrating for people who just would like to have these things available in their driveway right now. So there is definitely a public demand for it. There are definitely some of the options that are already ready. As you look around in the green car world and you see some of the, I do not know if you want to think of us competitors, but other green car makers, what other auto makers do you see that are inspiring to you? What other ones do you see as moving in the bad direction, or like "we are definitely not going down that road"? Basically, the question is, where do you see your place in the green car maker environment?

David: We are always trying to be a platform level integrator, meaning that instead of relying on an existing proprietary platform. We want the platform itself to be an open design item so that it will accelerate the process of this kind of technology insertion into the market. For example like if you have a new power generator, if can't (unintelligible) to buy your products you will probably in a lot of financial trouble, right, but if we could get let say a million of these open-source cars out on the market (unintelligible) barrier entry for a lot of these products or component supplies.

Sebastian: Okay, and how do you see the Open Source Green Vehicle Project or the Kernel EV competing with some of the other open source green cars because you obviously are not the only one. There is the C,MM,N, and there is also the Open-Source Car (OScar). Do you see those as competitors or you just see it more as everyone is working towards the same goals or they are not?

David: Well obviously the goal is very similar. I actually have constant contact with OScar people and their end-goal is very much the same. They are trying to come up with a non-proprietary platform but from the engineering's prospective you really need a core group of experts to control the specification especially for safety-critical systems like a car. You really need to control the designs with a core group of experts which we have. We have automotive engineers, they are very experienced, all of our automotive engineers we have various experience. We have aerospace engineers, and electrical engineers who have worked on these systems before. I think that really sets us apart from the other teams.

Sebastian: Because your car has that. Some of the thinking behind what is going into the Kernel EV is thinking that has been applied into other vehicles in other situations like people who have done it before and so they are able to bring that experience to this project, is that what you mean?

David: What I meant to say was the people we have chosen to be our core team members they are all highly-experienced engineers themselves in their own fields. For example we have a couple of former JPL [Jet Propulsion Lab] engineers. And we have engineers from Lockheed, Boeing and those are very, very experienced engineers with 25-plus years experience.

And we also have automotive engineer supports from Europe. We have a team in Rotterdam University and it is led by Mr. Roeland Hogt and he is a long-time automotive designer and who has been working as a consultant for many car companies over there too.

Sebastian: Okay, some of the people who have chosen to contribute in a larger way who definitely bring with them some skills that someone like me would not necessarily have, those engineering skills?

David: Right, but there is a lot works that needs to be done. There are a lot of detail design works that needs to be done and those can be done by somewhat less-experienced engineers too.

Sebastian: Okay, so for those of our readers who are interested, we will put a link to the Open Source Green Vehicle Project up on the story when this goes up on the web. We will be definitely interested to checkout what you have got in Santa Monica and thank you both for spending time with AutoblogGreen today and good luck with the Kernel and the Open Source Green Vehicle Project.

Valerie: Thank you, Sebastian.

David: Thank you.

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