For all the skeptics out there questioning the utility of crowd-sourcing as a means of effective product design, here's an example that actually hit the radar screen of President Obama.
Local Motors bills itself as an open-source car company, which means it leverages the spirit of Web 2.0 to bring together transportation designers, engineers and industrial designers, and car enthusiasts to "co-create" a vehicle, which it then produces, in limited runs, at a local micro-factory. Eschewing the capital-intensive, volume-production model of traditional car companies, Local Motors' main design horsepower comes from this online community, which innovates based on an initial set of specifications provided by Local Motors and tuned to a very specific target audience.
Think of the process like an American Idol for car development. People join a community, and designers and transportation engineers submit designs based on the initial set of specs as part of a competition. The broader user community votes on what car will be developed, and the concept with the most votes enters the co-create process, where the community at large collaborates on everything from choosing the body styling to picking interior components. All designs are protected with a Creative Commons license.
There are different car projects, i.e., competitions, for different local regions, and so far, the first co-created model to be produced is the Rally Fighter, an off-road vehicle that is being manufactured at a microfactory in Phoenix. Local Motors only builds 2,000 of any one vehicle, and customers participate in the actual manufacturing process at the local microfactory.
I know, the model is a bit quirky, to say the least. But there is something to be said about what Local Motors has been able to accomplish. As opposed to the multiple years it takes the automotive giants to produce and ship a new model, Local Motors says its crowd-sourced-based process for car design takes a mere 18 months from concept through production. It's an accomplishment that won firm accolades from President Obama last month when he visited Carnegie Mellon University on a tour to promote the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership, a program uniting industry, universities, and the federal government to jumpstart the manufacturing sector.
Local Motors partnered with DARPA on the XC2V to explore the concept of crowd-sourcing for defense system design.
President Obama's remarks about the Local Motors process was in response to the Combat Support Vehicle (XC2V), a proof-of-principle project between DARPA and Local Motors to explore the potential of crowd-sourcing on a military vehicle design. More than 150 credible designs were submitted by the Local Motors community, and the vehicle concept for XC2V was created and delivered in six months.
President Obama hailed the process as a cheaper and faster way of innovation, particularly for defense system design. "Instead of having a 10-year lead time to develop a piece of equipment with all kinds of changing specs and a moving target, if we were able to collapse the pace at which that manufacturing takes place, that could save taxpayers billions of dollars," he said in comments during the AMP announcement event.