Analysis and Commentary

Why a WA engineering company built an autonomous hybrid vehicle

Analysis and Commentary

By Brent Balinski

A couple of weeks ago this website shared news of an autonomous hydrogen/electric vehicle launched by East Fremantle engineering company Lycaon Group.

There was no information released on the application or customer for the vehicle, labelled AHV-001, apparently entering the field trial phase. 

It turns out the self-driving car – with its striking, Cybertruck-like body – is purely an in-house capability demonstrator project, developed by an engineering consultancy that only last week gained its second engineer. 

“It’s been pretty much a solo operation,” Lycaon’s Luke Barrett tells @AuManufacturing

The vehicle was about two years’ development time, according to Barrett, and “the better part of a year” to assemble physically, with help from a local fabricator. The software development represented not much more than “a month of hours” to get it to its current state.

“As a control systems business, a lot of work is pretty generic: you get the automation hardware, you apply it to an application,” he adds.

“So that was the primary goal: to develop capability and also demonstrate to industry that we do control systems engineering, we do electrical engineering, and it’s pretty standard. But we can go much further and do something else.”

Lycaon began in 2018, the year Barrett finished his engineering degree, with standalone power systems company Hybrid Systems its first client. Work continues in renewables, including one high-profile hydrogen demonstrator project.

More recently, it has also been involved in work with award-winning crane load-controlling company Roborigger (in collaboration with Sumitomo Mitsui Construction Co.) and with Alcolizer, which manufactures test kits for alcohol and other drugs. In 2020, Alcolizer began development of saliva-based rapid antigen tests using IP developed at UTS, with the product now known as Virulizer.

Lycaon has contributed production equipment for Alcolizer, which will be used to support output of the company’s LE5 Drug and Virulizer Tester kits.

Barrett says he hopes to continue to contribute on automation projects for advanced manufacturers in his state, to continue being a part of the shift to renewable energy, to pick up other “interesting, meaningful projects” and to eventually develop his company to a point where it can work in the space industry.

“When I set up a business, it was very much to build a structure where we could engage in interesting work, and obviously make that commercially viable, and then reach for a much more ambitious project. So the car is one of those, but that we’d really like to push into space as well,” he shares.

“It’s not an easy place to be commercially viable unless you’ve got a massive capital backing. It’s definitely something you have to grow towards: bring in the bread and butter and then work on those more ambitious projects.”

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