The way in which cars are being engineered and designed is evolving at a break-neck rate, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the automotive no-man’s-land found far away from Tesla and General Motor’s idea of what car manufacturing should be. While facilities like the Honda plant we toured will only get bigger and better over the next few decades, they are not necessarily the final say in how automobiles will one day be manufactured.
Last month, a segment of Bloomberg’s “Hello World” showcased stunt specialist and automotive madman Mouse McCoy tearing up the southwestern desert in a custom built hot-rod dune buggy, prior to going behind the scenes in order to illuminate the reasoning behind his antics. In the video, McCoy and his team of unorthodox adrenaline addicts pushed their one-off, sensor-laden Mad Max-mobiles to the point of no return, only to take the data collected from the broken beasts and allowing artificial intelligence to reforge them so that they became even stronger and faster.
According to Hack Rod’s mission statement, they remain “the Napster of things,” therefore admitting that there is “no need to reinvent the wheel.” By starting with a proven methodology and 50 years of performance engineering expertise, the punk-rock chop-shop is able to scan a chassis that has already been built in house and, thanks to “the wizard of chromoly,” can upload it directly to the cloud. From there, generative design engines are brought forth to put insane amounts of engineering prowess into the hands of a select few designers, where an Autodesk Dreamcatcher team reshapes the way in which a chassis is born, and in the process making Hack Rod’s vehicles the first to ever be engineered by artificial intelligence.
In the future, company founder’s Mouse McCoy and Greg “GT” Tracy mutually admit that they dream of a world where a single designer or engineer can “take a vehicle from pencil sketch to fully resolved aerodynamic solutions with one suite of software.” Once a body or frame is designed in Autodesk Fusion 360, engineers can then import said vehicle into Autodesk Flow Analysis, where digital aerodynamic testing takes place. But this is just the beginning of our journey into the heads-up world of custom cars, because out in the desert things can go right or horribly wrong in a blink of an eye, especially when your company is being run by two former stunt drivers.
Hack Rod nailed it by calling today’s world “an unprecedented period in industrial history.” Design solutions deemed impossible just a few years ago are now completely achievable, as technological advancements and additive manufacturing make one-off transportation solutions an attractive alternative to traditional car shopping.
Individuality and creativity have begun to outweigh mass-produced quantity for many millennial car buyers, and Hack Rod has a plan in place to make its avant-garde approach to car production a reality for a lot of people. Regardless of whether it’s one particular part or a thousand pieces for an entire car, the company plans to allow specialist vendors across the country the ability to print exactly what a consumer wants and then deliver it directly to their door.
By utilizing creative DIY fab-labs like Techshop, builders won’t even need to own tools to build the cars of the future, because everything they need to know about making something themselves, and all of the tools to do so, will already be at their fingertips. Hack Rod’s dream of what American automotive manufacturing might someday become reminds us of adult-sized LEGO kits, and the majority of car buyers will always prefer hitting the local dealership, a lot of creative minds will more than likely lean toward the DIY end of things too.
Hack Rod claims it is “excited to develop the pipeline that makes all of the above possible, and be the supply chain of the future,” and we can’t help but feel both inspired but somewhat skeptical. The ability to have a car custom built to your own specs and needs thanks to artificial intelligence and 3D printing is astoundingly cool to think about, but with increasingly strict government regulations and more people moving toward vehicle sharing and public transportation, will there be room in the future for such a nonconformist approach to auto manufacturing?
McCoy likes to think so, and as a racer, stunt man, and founder/creative director of Bandito Brothers, an award-winning film studio that focuses on the art and technology of motion and mobility, he knows cars better than most. He’s a Baja 500 and Baja 1000 champion, and utilizes these skill sets to push each vehicle his company has produced to the breaking point, just to see what all those sensors can tell the artificial intelligence behind him before making an even stronger 3D printed model.
Trial and error is McCoy’s bread and butter out in the desert, because when it comes to pushing a vehicle to the limits, few can do it better than he. In order to guarantee that it is offering the very best product imaginable, Hack Rod has to purposefully allow its co-founder to ruin its creations, because only then will they know exactly what failed and why.
Meanwhile, Tracy has a bit of a different role at the startup, even though he and McCoy both share a background in stunt driving and piloting race cars. GT is the guy who helped design and coordinate all three world records with Hot Wheels, as well as volunteer to be inside the winning green car when it set the Hot Wheels Double Loop Dare World Record in 2012.
GT is also widely respected for his success at the annual Pikes Peak Hill Climb, where he took first place seven times and remains the only competitor to break the 10-minute mark on a motorcycle. For him, Hack Rod represents the opportunity to give back in ways few people can, by making cars that people don’t just drive, but truly feel when they climb inside. Since many of the the pages buried within the book of mobility remain unwritten, both men continue to write history with their dreams of a world when smarter cars and manufacturing techniques will take what was once deemed mad, to the max.