It has always been difficult to assess the long-term significance of inventions. When Nikolaus August Otto invented the four-stroke engine in 1862, many people failed to realise that this milestone was about to change the world. Whether or not this flash of inspiration was the decisive factor in the triumph of the automobile is still not clear. But nevertheless, it was important. Again and again, history has shown that it is not always one huge idea that brings about a paradigm shift, but rather a series of small, very precise impulses.
Small, precise development impulses are one of EDAG's specialities. Take a look at the history of the engineering service provider, and you will keep coming across impulses that have by now gained technological and social consensus. These include car sharing and sustainable mobility concepts, lightweight technologies, or the concept of using car IT to make the added value of electric mobility more transparent. It was EDAG that in the past first drew attention to many of the subjects that people are talking about today.
As developers of complete vehicles, however, the Wiesbaden group have taken these thoughts one step further. In 2014, EDAG developed the Genesis concept, a clear indication of the direction in which things are heading. Genesis is proof of the fact that cars can be produced differently, better and - above all - more efficiently if we put our trust in the technological evolution of 3D printing and develop it to good purpose. In exchanges with researchers and experts, the Wiesbaden company have shown that the next 20 years could see a paradigm shift in automotive engineering – because it might become possible for bodies and structures of all types to be created in the "printer". Economically inefficient manufacturing tools and, linked to these, economically restrictive requirements for development and design, or resource-consuming logistics for the transport of material - all of this could change in the next few decades, and be replaced by more efficient production.
And, as with the development of the engine more than 150 years ago, Genesis was just one milestone, a small push in the right direction - to be followed very shortly by the next. In 2015, the engineers showed us just what can be achieved with these no longer quite so utopian development methods. In contrast to the original model "Genesis", the latest idea, the EDAG Light Cocoon, can be seen as the blueprint for a technological advancement which appears to be plausible - not in 20 years or so, but within the next 10.
The starting point was the question of how it might be possible to put the findings from Genesis to good use in the automotive engineering of today. Particularly in lightweight construction, one of EDAG's main development focuses.
The realisation that structures with a basic design inspired by nature are simply more stable and weigh less led to a new approach for the design of the EDAG Light Cocoon's outer skin.
With this in mind, the engineers took the tried and tested, structure-providing vehicle surfaces, allowed themselves to be inspired by leaves and bats' wings, and, combining the two, came to the realisation that there is no reason why a car body should be regarded as a closed surface. Instead, an approach was adopted in which material was only actually used in areas where it was necessary for function, safety and stiffness. This means that the sheet metal surfaces that typically make up the outer skin of a vehicle were broken up.
The result: the "EDAG Light Cocoon" presents the same kind of stable, branch-like load bearing structure that can be seen in nature. Despite the fact that less material has been used, all requirements imposed on structurally relevant components are met.
Thanks to the tool-free production solutions offered by additive manufacturing, it is possible to create bionic designs which are so complex that it would be impossible to produce them using standard manufacturing processes.
With the Light Cocoon, EDAG were able to show that bionic design can already be applied to structural parts. And that the added value of this design process more than justifies its integration into automobile development.
The skeleton of the agile EDAG Light Cocoon vaguely resembles a spider's web - which creates something of a problem: for no matter how light and protective this stable structure might be, it would be unsuitable for road use for the simple reason that it is not weather resistant. The question was, therefore, how to go about protecting the interior while still showing off the refined structure of the car. Admittedly, the idea of covering cars with fabric has a polarising effect - but in the case of the EDAG Light Cocoon, it does make sense. A durable, weather-resistant fabric was developed in cooperation with outdoor clothing specialists Jack Wolfskin, to provide an elegant cover for the vehicle's "printed" structure.
The flexible cover can weigh as little as 19 grammes per square metre. To compare: standard paper weighs in at 80 grammes. And apart from the reduction in weight, the whole thing is sustainable from other points of view: no more paint, no costly repairs in case of damage, absolute freedom when it comes to design and individualisation.
In addition, LEDs are used to illuminate the structure of the show car from the inside. Not just for show, but also to make the skeleton visible. This makes it possible to personalise the outer skin of the vehicle, and therefore its overall appearance. Whereas personalisation is nowadays restricted to the choice of accessories, the Cocoon also takes this idea one step further. The colour of the outer skin can be changed at will, to suit the driver's taste. The customer himself becomes a designer, with the Cocoon as his canvas. The settings for this are not stored in the car, as you might expect them to be, but managed in a personal account.
There is very little likelihood of our seeing fabric cars in the next few years. However, one thing has already become apparent: namely that various structure-providing vehicle parts will very soon be based on the EDAG Light Cocoon findings. Why? Because if EDAG can already clearly demonstrate that, with bionic design and additive manufacturing, it is possible to produce cars more efficiently in both economical and ecological terms, and as a result achieve drastic weight reductions, then it is only a question of time until the idea becomes a standard. A standard which, like the Otto cycle engine of 1862, might not have a direct effect on present-day mobility. But which nevertheless has the potential to bring about a technological transformation and change our world for the better.