The WikiSpeed Team and Joe ‘Awesome’ Justice have put together many of the pieces of the puzzle that we have been describing here.
Don’t forget to watch this video first:
‘To build a car that can really change the game, you have to think outside the box. That’s what Joe Justice is doing with his SGT01 car and his network of volunteer mechanics called WikiSpeed. Let me start by saying the SGT01 isn’t electric. It isn’t even a hybrid. But it is one of the most fuel-efficient, intelligently designed cars ever made. It gets 104mpg city and 114mpg highway, which with a 4-gallon tank gives it a range of 400 miles. Couple that with 0-60mph in 5.5 seconds and 5 star crash safety and you’ve got a pretty good car. Oh, and it only costs $25,000.”
“Team WIKISPEED uses methods developed by the fastest moving software companies. In fact, in many ways we have more in common with Google or Twitter than GM or Toyota. Manufacturing and old-thought software teams gather requirements, design the solution, build the solution, test the solution, then deliver the solution. In existing automotive companies, the design portion of that process alone takes more than 10 years, and then the vehicle design is built for 5 to 14 years. This means it is possible to buy a brand new car from a dealer and that car represents the engineering team’s understanding of what the customer wanted, 24 years ago! Team WIKISPEED follows the model of Agile software teams, following the same cycle but compressing it into 1 week “sprints”. We iterate the entire car every 7 days. That means every 7 days we re-evaluate each part of the car and re-invent the highest priority aspects, instead of waiting 10 to 24 years. This enables a completely different pace of development.”
What are the Characteristics of the WikiSpeed development process?
“Here are some highlights of what Joe and the others from Wikispeed have accomplished:
* Designed and manufactured a 4-passenger street-legal car that gets 100 mpg
Most of us would agree that is quite an achievement.
There is more:
* The car was constructed using off-the-shelf parts
This means, among others things, that the car is easily serviceable using existing maintenance infrastructure
* The car is entirely modular in design
All sub-systems are essentially snap-out/snap-in, making replacement of engine, brakes, suspension, etc. a process that takes just a few minutes. BTW, this is not simply replacing like-for-like but also to switch to a new technology (e.g. change to a new engine).
* They innovated a new process for carbon-fiber body construction that costs 1/360th the traditional process
With this process, they were able to switch to a new body type for less than $1000.
* You can pre-order cars now for less than $29,000
This is not just a one-off prototype. Currently they are manufacturing one car per week (yes, that’s the low volume manufacturing retail price). They are targeting a future price of under $20,000.
Last but not least, all this has been accomplished:
* With no capital investment
Although they do solicit donations through PayPal on their Web site.
* No paid employees
Everything is done by volunteers. *”
More on the Modularity aspects:
“One of the core concepts behind WikiSpeed cars is the ability to swap components. This doesn’t mean you get to choose between real or faux paneling, or how many cup holders. If you owned a WikiSpeed car, for about $1000 you could take it into the shop and get the body swapped for a newer model. Or if a more efficient (or powerful) engine came out, just bring your car in and let them upgrade it. The idea is that the car isn’t a single entity, it’s a modular assembly of parts that can be traded in or upgraded at will. … With a modular car, you don’t have to worry about it, you can just take it in and have them swap the engine for a better one. And as your car begins to look dated, you can upgrade it’s appearance. Or the audio input, or the GPS system, or anything else you don’t like!”
Matthew Halverson adds that:
“What makes the SGT01 really intriguing, though—aside from the fact that Justice will sell you one for about 21 grand—is that virtually every system and component can be pulled out and quickly replaced by someone with no automotive experience. Have a sporty body on your Wikispeed car but want something more practical and sophisticated for carpooling with coworkers? Unbolt it from the chassis, lift it off, and drop on your four-door sedan body. (The carbon fiber construction is so light that two people can do the job without breaking a sweat.) The interior in the car you bought last year looking a little dated? Swap it out for the 2013 model. “Let’s say tomorrow Volvo comes out with an amazing new air bag,” Justice says. “You’d have to buy a new Volvo to get that. Even if they wanted to they couldn’t give it to all of their existing customers. Well, when you modularize a car, suddenly that’s not true anymore.
“Think about your email client—maybe you use Outlook or Gmail,” he goes on. “You don’t have to buy a new computer when you change email clients, right? Imagine if you did.” Ah, computers. This idea of interchangeable, plug-and-play components has been around for years in the computer industry, and that’s where Justice got it.”
More on The Development Process as inspired from software paradigms:
“From Lean software design we take the concept of using less stuff wherever responsible. This is based on the common sense true-ism “use less stuff” and then defined in a clear applicable way by the contemporary software team.
From Extreme Programming (XP) we take the practices of pairing and swarming. These date back at least as far as the apprentice model, but have been carefully defined to replace the need for most types of training and process documentation.
From Agile software development we take the principle of reducing cost to make change; changes in team, materials, machinery, and even goals.
From Scrum software development we take clearly defined team roles and responsibilities, which allows us to spend more time rapidly developing product with no non-working (management only) roles and only 2 meetings.
From Test Driven Development we start with failing tests then develop solutions. This allows us to quickly identify if current work is not targeted to passing a test or causing problems elsewhere in the system, which avoids waste.
From Object Oriented Programming we take Contract First Development, this is what enables the modularity of the WIKISPEED car and all of our solutions.”
Matthew Halverson adds on Agile development:
“Justice and his volunteers pull out the car’s components, tweak them, and test new versions every seven days. Metal shelves in Justice’s garage are lined with plastic bins that hold car parts in various stages of testing. One houses an accelerator pedal attached to a series of wires that can be hooked up to an engine to develop a more fuel-efficient shifting mechanism. “People coming from other disciplines don’t think that way,” he says. “They say, ‘Well, here’s the best idea I have. Let’s try it.’ And it’s not modular, so it costs a lot to change. They kind of have one shot at it. I created a software project because I didn’t know any better. I did tests first and said, ‘Okay, this is the range of parameters that can achieve more than 100 miles per gallon. What’s the cheapest thing I can do with that design?’ ”
* Status: How many sales have you made so far?
“We have had team members build cars that they use before, and our very first cash sale occurred in December 2011. … we won’t go out of business if we don’t have any on the road, and we are equipped to produce more than 100,000 cars within the next three years if the market place is interested. … Using the Scrum framework to run our teams with Lean principles lets us keep the rapid problem solving of focused small teams as we scale out. We’ve recently grown in Vietnam and Spain … There has been strong multi-national interest. The Swiss and United Kingdom markets have been especially vocal, and recently the Vietnamese and Indian markets have folks expressing strong interest as well. We are currently looking for a location to produce vehicles in Europe and Asia in addition to our capabilities in North America. A best case scenario would be distributed, collaborative multi-national manufacturing and R&D. Our automotive goal is to produce products desirable in each market, with top safety and efficiency performance, and total cost of ownership similar or even below current economy commuter vehicles for that market. Of course that’s a dream goal, but in team WIKISPEED we seem to keep making unreasonably quick progress towards that goal, and have prototypes for sale now in the U.S.”
What prompted you to begin building your cars in the first place?
I was passionate about efficiency and safety, and had a deep curiosity if safe, reliable, quick cars could be inexpensive. It seemed to me that some very high end sports cars had about the same amount of similar materials, or even less, than some very inexpensive commuter cars, and people might be paying more for just putting the material in a different place. I wanted to know if that was true.
Because of the modular design, and the self-directed nature of your work, it seems a person who bought one of your cars would be someone with a mechanical interest and enough mechanical knowledge to work on the vehicle themselves.
We aim to make the cars self-explanatory. If our web browsers, or even smart phones now, come with a manual that is considered a usability failure. Our car modules are designed to be switchable by anyone who is comfortable changing a tire; allowing them to choose a gasoline or electric drive train, or a pick-up-truck or a convertible, and switch their WIKISPEED car between all of those things in about the time it would take for them to put snow tires on their car.
Did you design the vehicle with a do-it-yourself audience in mind, or did the modular design result from something else?
The modular design resulted from needing to test many ideas quickly at a low cost; we needed to be able to test many different engine types without building the rest of the car each time and many different safety systems without building the rest of the car each time. I had an aspiration of enabling do-it-yourself folks through usability, but that was secondary to the driver of needing to compete with teams wielding multimillion dollar research budgets.
How many people volunteer their time to work on the cars?
We have more than 120 team members in 10 countries. They all volunteers, working nights and weekends. They don’t all work on cars though. WIKISPEED is involved in rapidly solving problems for social good. Ultra-efficient cars are a social good by our definition, and many team members rapidly prototype and manufacture those cars. We also are involved in vaccine delivery to wipe out polio and reduce cases of rotavirus, and work on low-cost medical centers and environmentally sustainable housing for developing communities.
How many of your cars do you imagine can be on the roads in the next three years?
Using agile methods, we opt not to predict and instead increase the pace at which we can take advantage of opportunity. So I’ll answer that by saying we won’t go out of business if we don’t have any on the road, and we are equipped to produce more than 100,000 cars within the next three years if the market place is interested.
Will you continue expanding, or would you prefer to keep your organization small?
We grow as fast as responsible. Using the Scrum framework to run our teams with Lean principles lets us keep the rapid problem solving of focused small teams as we scale out. We’ve recently grown in Vietnam and Spain, and will continue to do awesome anywhere we are able.
Has there been any interest from people in other countries to build and drive your type of car abroad?
There has been strong multi-national interest. The Swiss and United Kingdom markets have been especially vocal, and recently the Vietnamese and Indian markets have folks expressing strong interest as well. We are currently looking for a location to produce vehicles in Europe and Asia in addition to our capabilities in North America. A best case scenario would be distributed, collaborative multi-national manufacturing and R&D. Our automotive goal is to produce products desirable in each market, with top safety and efficiency performance, and total cost of ownership similar or even below current economy commuter vehicles for that market. Of course that’s a dream goal, but in team WIKISPEED we seem to keep making unreasonably quick progress towards that goal, and have prototypes for sale now in the U.S.”
* Discussion: What the software Industry got from the car industry is returned with interest
Charlie Rudd writes:
“It is well known that Scrum and XP practices, the cornerstone of Agile and Lean software development, were inspired by lean manufacturing methods, most notably as applied by Toyota. Since their introduction approximately fifteen years ago (Kent Beck’s Extreme Programming 1999, Scrum 1995, Agile Manifesto 2001), Agile methods have resulted in dramatic productivity gains throughout the software industry.
And along the way something else happened. As Joe explains it, since the design and production cycle-times for software development are typically much shorter than they are for manufacturing, respective incremental process improvement has often progressed at a more rapid pace. Consequently, there are instances where Agile and Lean methods in the software industry have surpassed their counterparts in manufacturing, the industry from which the originated. In addition, just as the software industry gained insights that led to huge waste reduction and quality improvements by applying the manufacturing metaphor to software development, so now is Wikispeed achieving transformational results in the automobile industry, by applying leading edge software design and Agile methods to car design and manufacturing.
In short, the Lean methods that crossed over from automobile manufacturing and transformed software development are now (through Wikispeed’s efforts) crossing back over and transforming the car industry (again).
The rapid innovation displayed by Joe and Co is a great example of, as Stephen Johnson puts it, “Where good ideas come.” As we recently discussed, Stephen Johnson makes the case that through the ages, most important innovations were the product not of single-minded geniuses but the byproduct of human collaborations.
Agile values are founded on the notion that innovation happens through collaboration. Stephen Johnson states this idea succinctly: “Chance favors the connected mind.” Wikispeed demonstrates to a broader audience what we in the software industry how have known for some time: Agile methods accelerate innovation.”