From 3D-Printed Cars to Terraforming Mars: Launch Forth Seeks to Change the World
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on January 24, 2018 | | 4226 views

When the company began in 2007, Local Motors became known as the startup with the crowdsourcing approach to car design and manufacturing. By 2014, it became “the car 3D printing company” when it 3D printed the Strati live on the floor of the International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago.

It’s now 2017, and Local Motors is in the process of redefining itself once again with Launch Forth, a software-as-a-service (SaaS)/social media site/incubator for crowdsourced designs. In addition to developing and bringing vehicles to market, Local Motors will empower a co-creation community to reengineer the world altogether.

Launch Forth leverages a community of creators to solve engineering problems, such as how to house the planet or build houses on Mars. (Image courtesy of Launch Forth.)
Launch Forth leverages a community of creators to solve engineering problems, such as how to house the planet or build houses on Mars. (Image courtesy of Launch Forth.)

To do so, Launch Forth will provide that community with a number of important tools, skills and resources, including free licenses of Siemens PLM Software’s Solid Edge software. ENGINEERING.com spoke with Elle Shelley, executive vice president of Launch Forth, to learn more.

The World According to Elle Shelley

Shelley was hired three years ago to understand what cultural, technological and market shifts are influencing the way we design and manufacture products. With a small team of people, she set about determining those shifts and came to several observations:

  • Technology and civilization are evolving at an exponentially accelerated pace. In turn, organizations must redefine themselves at faster and faster rates.
  • People have a “cognitive surplus,” in which they use their brain power when they’re not working to pay the bills to tackle other issues. (Think Wikipedia’s army of editors and admins.)
  • Software concepts, such as agile and open-source software development, could be applied to hardware.
  • More workers are joining the gig economy. As workers seek flexible work places, businesses are favoring an on-demand workforce. 

Local Motors has already demonstrated an understanding of many of these trends. Members of the company’s co-creation community put their cognitive surplus to work designing and engineering a car in their spare time. With Local Motors’ direct digital manufacturing (DDM) technology, the firm can bring a physical model into the world via 3D printing and quickly iterate its design using feedback from the environment.

Launching Launch Forth

Shelley set about applying these observations into a single vision. Launched in October 2016, Launch Forth is a social network that connects users in order to solve specific problems, which range from building Mars habitats and developing inspection technologies to solving homelessness. It also acts as an SaaS for businesses to use the co-creation community to tackle their company-specific problems.

How do you make a modular Marine vehicle? Ask the Launch Forth community. (Image courtesy of Launch Forth.)

How do you make a modular Marine vehicle? Ask the Launch Forth community. (Image courtesy of Launch Forth.)

On the Launch Forth site, you can find projects from the likes of the U.S. Marines and Allianz. While Allianz is seeking new designs for adaptive sporting devices (think extreme wheelchairs) for its Super Human Sports project, the Marines are looking to create a modular vehicle system, as well as an unmanned cargo system.

Inspired by the Marine Corps Twentynine Palms in California, which created a fleet of custom autos by modifying standard off-the-shelf utility vehicles, the Marines turned to the Launch Forth community to expand the concept further. So far, 133 project members are brainstorming ideas for a vehicle that can tackle a range of logistical missions. An idea pitched by one member includes the ability to join multiple all-wheel-drive vehicles into one larger machine. The Modular Logistics Vehicle project is offering $10,000 in prizes as an incentive to project members.

These tenancies from the Marines and Allianz coexist alongside an HP tenancy called hpmars, in which community members are asked to work on “The Urbanization of Mars,” “The Mars Lifestyle” and “The Robots of Mars.” You’ll also see the Local Motors tenancy related to the car company’s self-driving, 3D-printed Olli vehicle.

Launch Forth community members have been asked to come up with ideas for making Local Motors’ self-driving, 3D-printed vehicle accessible to those with disabilities. (Image courtesy of Launch Forth.)
Launch Forth community members have been asked to come up with ideas for making Local Motors’ self-driving, 3D-printed vehicle accessible to those with disabilities. (Image courtesy of Launch Forth.)

The reason that all of these tenancies exist together on the Launch Forth platform is to harness what Shelley refers to as “the power of adjacencies.”

The Power of Adjacencies

“We now believe—and I believe we’ve proved it—that exponential innovation comes from solving problems using a wide variety of skill sets and perspectives that technologies in one industry can be applied to other industries,” Shelley explained. “When we introduced Launch Forth, we saw the same people working on Local Motors in developing 3D-printed vehicles were the same people using 3D printing methodologies to help 3D print houses on Mars, which were the same people trying to figure out how to use metal additive manufacturing (AM) or figure out how to create a testing for AM.”

The idea behind the power of adjacencies was proven when Local Motors sought designs for the LM3D, the first highway-ready, 3D-printed car. The winner of the contest was Kevin Lo, an HP engineer who was working on the company’s 3D printing technology. Although Lo isn’t a car designer, he could apply his 3D printing expertise to understanding what the technology could bring to 3D printing vehicles, according to Shelley. 

Designed by community member Alexey Medvedev, the Zelator won his creator $50,000. (Image courtesy of Launch Forth.)
Designed by community member Alexey Medvedev, the Zelator won his creator $50,000. (Image courtesy of Launch Forth.)

As the Marines work with Launch Forth community members to create an unmanned cargo delivery system that can traverse difficult terrains with essential supplies, we may see the power of adjacencies come into play once again. Launch Forth already successfully launched a cargo drone challenge in partnership with Airbus (winning design pictured above, actually flying in the video below). Community members that worked on that project can carry knowledge over to the aid the marines in an even more specialized cargo delivery system. 

Tools for Launch Forth Members

Within each tenancy, Launch Forth community members are able to access tools and participate in a number of ways. For instance, they are able to generate brainstorms for collecting ideas dedicated to a topic, or attend regularly hosted live question and answer sessions with experts at a given organization.

Community members can also participate in challenges, either quicker and less intense challenges or four- to six-week, long-form challenges, which result in manufacture-ready designs. It is in these challenges that community members have the opportunity to earn cash rewards and other prizes. 

Important to the evolution of the Launch Forth community is the empowerment and education of its members. For this reason, Launch Forth has partnered with Siemens to provide all its users with free Solid Edge licenses, dubbed the “Launch Forth Community Edition”. The software is a robust version of Solid Edge Classic that can be used within the Launch Forth community or privately. The Launch Forth Community Edition will maintain unlimited usage, but will watermark any exported 2D files. Members will be given an opportunity to convert their drawings or upgrade to commercial versions of Solid Edge based on participation in the community.

Local Motors actually uses Siemens PLM and manufacturing software in its own operations, which Shelley said makes the entire design-to-production process that much easier when models are designed in Solid Edge. 

“We don’t have to worry about corrupt files,” Shelley said. “We don’t have to worry about building files. We don’t have to worry about these things that hinder and slow down the design process, which cost a lot more time and money.”

Shelley explained that she hopes to incorporate some principles of gamification into the community, with words potentially associated with the development of CAD skills. “We’re creating a training program, including monthly CAD challenges,” Shelley said. “We’ll be layering CAD challenges onto our various projects and say, ‘Here are some design concepts. Now using Solid Edge, let’s turn them into CAD.’”

Community members also have access to live round tables with software training as well as Q&As with Solid Edge experts. There are also discussions related to incorporating Solid Edge certification into the Launch Forth platform, making it possible to be trained and certified within the community.

“We believe that learning is an active sport, not a passive sport,” Shelley said. “We know that we need to give people information and then we need to give them an opportunity to apply their information. We’ve learned that when you do that, you get the best outcomes for the end user, which is why we’re gamifying that whole process— so that it’s basically gamifying homework. But we’re not calling it homework; we’re calling them challenges and putting small prize money behind it. We’re framing up the challenges in these very inspirational ways to use skills to solve big world problems.”

Transforming the World with Co-Creation

As its latest transformation occurs, it has become evident that not only has Launch Forth outlined a method for rapid innovation, but that it innovates itself just as rapidly as others can with Launch Forth’s own tools.

Since its launch, Launch Forth has expanded beyond corporate tenancies to altruistic problems faced by the world at large, such as the global housing crisis. With the “House the World” project, Launch Forth hopes that engineers will be able to develop a means for providing housing to everyone on the planet through tools such as 3D printing.

The House the World Challenge asks users to come up with ways to create homes for everyone on the planet in a sustainable manner. (Image courtesy of Launch Forth.)
The House the World Challenge asks users to come up with ways to create homes for everyone on the planet in a sustainable manner. (Image courtesy of Launch Forth.)

“We believe that, with the community, we can solve anything,” Shelley said. “Let’s also start talking about how we can start solving problems like how to house the world. Now we’re starting to actually have these conversations around how to create more livable solutions with a smaller footprint.”

From this project, it’s easy to see how users who have gained experience designing 3D-printed homes for hpmars can begin looking at creating buildings for the world’s homeless. At the same time as they may be helping the world, members will also be helping themselves, learning new CAD tools, possibly earning cash prizes and attaining fame within the Launch Forth community.

The program is still young, but Shelley is hopeful that Launch Forth will not just serve the corporate partners, but humanity as a whole. To learn more about Launch Forth, visit the program website

Siemens has sponsored this article. It has provided no editorial input other than verification of the technical facts. All opinions are mine. —Michael Molitch-Hou

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