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Watch robots perform ‘industrial origami’ to fold sheets of steel into an electric scooter

The process to build the Stilride scooter involves robots folding sheets of steel instead of cutting them.

Over dinner with a potential business partner in 2019, Swedish designer Tue Beijer pulled out some sketches and a model of an electric scooter made out of folded paper. He explained that he wanted to replicate the design in steel, including the folds. The scooter would be folded from steel by robots.

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[Photo: courtesy Stilride]
“I saw the potential for the ‘industrial origami’ process by seeing the folded structure that was made from one sheet of paper,” says Jonas Nyvang, who was convinced at the dinner that the approach was a viable new way to manufacture scooters and motorcycles—and a way to help significantly shrink the environmental footprint of production. Nyvang and Beijer cofounded Stilride, a research project that turned into a startup, which will bring its first robot-folded scooter to market later this year.

A typical electric scooter has a plastic body placed on top of a tubular metal frame with dozens of components to hold it together. When Stilride made its first prototype—pulling some of the parts from a Chinese-made scooter—it counted 130 components in the older design. In its own version, the number of components dropped by 70% to 15. The design also uses less material. “By folding the structure, we’re creating a strength in the structure that actually makes it possible to have substantially less material and substantially less weight,” says Beijer.

[Photo: courtesy Stilride]
Some industrial-production processes require expensive custom molds. But by creating software and an attachment that can make it possible for common industrial robots to fold steel into curves, the startup can avoid having to build costly new factories. It can also work with existing steel workshops, so the bikes can be made near customers. “Instead of building a big factory somewhere like China, and then shipping around the world, we would like to produce near the end-customer,” Nyvang says. “That is something that also minimizes the environmental footprint.” The same process could also be used to build other products like furniture.

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[Photo: courtesy Stilride]
The company also plans to use recycled steel, or, eventually, steel made from green hydrogen instead of fossil fuels. A third-party lifecycle analysis of the design found that by reducing materials and transportation, and because of the choices made in the supply chain, the product should have half the carbon footprint of a typical electric scooter, helping to improve a vehicle that’s already greener than a gas scooter or even an electric car.

[Photo: courtesy Stilride]
Inside a small steel workshop outside of Stockholm, the first scooters are in production now. The first product, the Sport Utility Scooter One (SUS1),will have a top speed of 60 miles an hour and a range of  roughly 75 miles, and is projected to go on sale in Europe this fall.

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley

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