technology transport

Accelerating EV research with open source vehicles

Open Source is a phenomenon that emerged in the software industry. Where companies such as Microsoft built their business by locking everything down, open source developers publish the code and let anyone use and improve it. As it turns out, the combined wisdom of thousands of programmers in a user community is often superior to an in-house team working behind closed doors. I’m writing this blog on the WordPress platform, in my view the best of the many blogging platforms, which is Open Source. And I’m doing so in the Firefox browser, the poster child for open source software.

It’s most readily associated with software, but the open source approach can be applied to many other things – any time a process or a design is open to improvement from its users, rather than patented and centrally controlled. Tesla unlocked all its patents a couple of years ago so that anyone could learn from their research and development into batteries and electric cars. The Lego company developed Serious Play, a business strategy facilitation method using its signature blocks, and then open sourced it so anyone could use the tools. There was considerable excitement among my home-brewing friends last year when the cult brewery Brewdog published all its recipes online.

OS Vehicle has taken this approach to developing electric vehicles. A transition away from fossil fuels can’t come soon enough, but the big car companies are in no hurry. It would help to have more diversity in the market, more players, start-ups and design labs working on new car designs. The pace of innovation would rise, and accelerate the shift to EVs. But of course designing a road-legal car is expensive and time consuming, so OS Vehicle gives design teams a headstart.

The Tabby Evo is an electric vehicle platform that you can order as a kit, and it can be assembled in under an hour. For €500 you can get yourself a basic chassis, four wheels, drive train and steering. It’s up to you to then add motors and batteries and panels, and turn it into an actual car. For engineers and designers, it’s an affordable starter kit for trying out new designs and applications. The OS Vehicle website showcases a number of vehicles that have been built on the platform, including a pickup, a small EV for wheelchair users, and a dune buggy with a fabric body panels. At least one has been developed commercially. Others are built to serve car-sharing schemes with cheap and easily repairable EVs.

The other platform available from OS Vehicle is a one-seater based on the Renault Twizy, which has been open sourced to encourage small city cars. Come back in 10 days time and they’ll be able to show you their new platform for an open source self-driving car as well.

This open source approach to car design reduces costs, which democratizes the development of new cars. Since all OS Vehicles are modular, they are designed for easy repair, upgrading, or dismantling and re-use. And it only comes in electric.




  1. Amory Lovins has said a lot on this subject. A car in any shape of form carries a payload of a fraction of its own mass. In this, it compares unfavourably with, on the one hand, the 70 year old technology used in the London Routemaster bus, and on the other, with a bicycle.

    The real need most of the time is for a vehicle capable of carrying two people, plus some luggage, with some weather protection.

    1. Yes, and I think that if we must have private automobiles, most of the cars on the road could be one or two seaters. Once most of the cars on the roads are electric, we can start to trust ourselves with lighter weight cars too, and begin to think more radically about what we make cars out of. The combustion engine has really limited our options on that front.

  2. Registering a home built one-off car in the UK is a nightmare, as such a vehicle has to comply with a considerable and exacting set of regulations. Registering a kit-car is not tooo0 bad, as the manufacturer (ie designer) has already met most of these requirements before they sell a kit to a customer (who just has to build it right). So any open-source EV kit for use in the UK on the public highway needs to be developed to a considerable degree before sale, including such things as details of the bodywork (no sharp corners or edges), lighting, dual circuit braking etc.

    1. Indeed, and OS Vehicle have done some of that groundwork. You can order a kit that is road legal in the UK, and they also have a lot of support for those looking to make compliant cars in various parts of the world.

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