An Invention’s Journey to Henry Ford Museum
Inspired by Thomas Edison, Oliver Kuttner has not only driven his Very Light Car into engineering history, he’s also got one parked at the Henry Ford Museum.
Creating something new is arguably one of the most satisfying achievements in life. As engineers, our careers are littered with accounts where we’ve improved designs, given life to concepts and maybe even built something brand new and impactful.
For Edison2 founder Oliver Kuttner, all of those things have happened and his X-Prize winning Very Light Car (VLC) stands in the Henry Ford Museum’s growing collection of engineering marvels.
But unlike many of the stories about engineering brilliance, Oliver’s isn’t one about a lone genius working in solitude. Instead, his story is more modern – it’s one that revolves around inspiration coupled with collaboration.
Pursuit of the Dream
Born in Germany, Oliver Kuttner was inspired by engineering stories from an early age. Watching TV, the young Kuttner would fixate on stories that would highlight the incredible potential for ingenuity to transform the world. In particular, Oliver’s imagination was captured by the tale of how Thomas Edison invented the light bulb.
For Oliver, the invention of the light bulb wasn’t just about fabricating a new source of light. It was a fascinating quest spurred on by a fundamental goal, the illumination of the world – day or night.
Throughout his formative years, Oliver continued to reflect on Thomas Edison’s quest. Sometime during his studies, Oliver recognized a shift happening in the way we innovate. It occurred to him that it wasn’t possible for one person to tackle all of the challenges that come with designing a new idea. Oliver would need to build a team.
Oliver struck out on his own to build that team. However, they wouldn’t be building a new light bulb, they’d be building a new hyper-efficient car.
Collaboration is Key
Years later, in the middle of a Lynchburg Virginia garage, Oliver and his team went into action.
For months a core group of engineers, aerodynamics experts and others, - focused on a fundamental goal; nothing short of building a 1,000-pound car that could be a game changer.
With a revolutionary in-wheel suspension system, and a body that put aerospace aerodynamics to shame, the VLC was starting to look like a car that might actually meet its objectives and possibly surpass them.
It wouldn’t be long before Oliver and his team would know if they’d hit their mark. The VLC would be competing for the Automotive X-Prize, a competition to validate a new generation of hyper-efficient vehicles.
Over the course of several grueling months, the VLC would be put through its paces by the judges overseeing the X-Prize competition. While the competition was tight, the VLC was consistently putting up pace-setting numbers. Oliver’s auto was the only entrant left in the competition by the finals. In the end, the VLC recorded a mpg efficiency of 102.5 mpg, proving that a four-passenger platform could be both practical and hyper-efficient.
Oliver’s story (and the VLC’s journey) wasn’t just about him. Standing alongside him on victory road was his team. Ron Mathis, Barnaby Wainfan, Brad Jaeger and others were just as crucial to the VLC’s success as Oliver. Collaboration between these people created a car that has made its mark in automotive history.
At present, like it’s always been in the past, our society faces challenges. And, just as it’s been in the past, people with inspired ideas will race to solve these issues. For Oliver Kuttner, his fundamental challenge has been building a vehicle that can reduce the resources we use to build our cars and move them about.
With the VLC, Oliver has achieved those goals. But his ambition to change the automotive world is just beginning. In fact, Oliver recently delivered a TEDx talk outlining his vision for a revolutionary driverless future. And as always, Oliver has made it a point of highlighting how Siemens’ Solid Edge software has been critical in taking his idea from a dream to a reality.
Today, the Edison2 VLC sits right alongside the Henry Ford Museum’s recreation of Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park lab. For Oliver Kuttner, nothing could be more satisfying.
Kyle Maxey is a guest contributor to Past Forward.
by Kyle Maxey, Thomas Edison, engineering, environmentalism, Henry Ford Museum, Driving America, cars