LIFE-SIZE LEGO BU­GATTI

Want to build your own su­per­car? Here’s how Lego built a driv­able, life-size Bu­gatti Ch­i­ron replica from a mil­lion pieces of plas­tic

T3 India - - Contents - Words: Matt Bolton

We’ve found the ul­ti­mate Christ­mas gift: a Lego Bu­gatti Ch­i­ron. You can buy the model kit now, but not be­fore read­ing how Lego built a life-size one from over a mil­lion pieces of plas­tic…

When Lego an­nounced that its next deluxe Tech­nic model would be a Bu­gatti, the com­pany in­vited us to visit the car maker’s test track in Ger­many. Not to see the small model, but some­thing more mind-blow­ing: Lego has built, from over a mil­lion pieces of Tech­nic, a life-size Lego Bu­gatti Ch­i­ron… That ac­tu­ally drives.

Weigh­ing around 1,500kg, the car is built pretty much solely from Tech­nic pieces, with the ex­cep­tion of a steel frame (nec­es­sary for sup­port­ing all that weight), wheels (nec­es­sary for be­ing round in a way that Lego is not), hy­draulic brakes, power steer­ing, a roll cage (just in case), and a few other me­chan­i­cal pieces that re­ally can’t be made of plas­tic.

It’s the first Lego cre­ation of this kind of scale to be built with­out us­ing glue to hold the pieces to­gether, and that also means it’s the first time Lego had to build load-bear­ing sec­tions purely from Tech­nic. Even more im­pres­sive is that the car was so com­plex, the com­puter modelling sys­tems the team nor­mally uses couldn’t han­dle all of the de­sign, so most of it was planned by hand.

“The first beams were built on a ta­ble, and we were test­ing the prop­er­ties of them and what they could with­stand,” ex­plained Pavel Volný, an en­gi­neer on the project.

We were cu­ri­ous about how the team kept track of how it was go­ing to look and fit to­gether at the fi­nal stages with no fully planned model to re­fer to. “We al­most lived to­gether for like a quar­ter of a year,” said Pavel. “We were dis­cussing things ad hoc, on the spot. We had to be sure that each and

ev­ery mem­ber of the team had the right in­for­ma­tion at the right time.”

The need for the car to sup­port its own weight on Lego con­nec­tions alone led to some com­pli­ca­tions in the way it was built, from the cen­tre out. For a start, the body isn’t con­nected to the steel frame in any fixed way. In­stead it just sits on it, held in place by grav­ity and a brick struc­ture that wraps around the frame.

STUCK IN THE MID­DLE

This ap­proach meant that once the team started build­ing on top of that core struc­ture, they were kind of stuck with it. “In the be­gin­ning we had to make a lot of de­ci­sions with the de­sign crew, be­cause we knew that it wouldn’t be easy – or even pos­si­ble – to change things,” ex­plained Pavel. “If you want to change some spe­cial part which is in­side, I’m not sure you’d be able to reach it. But we de­cided that we def­i­nitely need to change the en­gine and make it easy to change.”

The en­gine is a feat of en­gi­neer­ing in it­self. The car is equipped with a huge power pack built from Lego Tech­nic Power Func­tions mo­tors. Nor­mally, th­ese do things such as mak­ing con­veyer belts move on mod­els only a cou­ple of feet long. Here they make a full-size car drive. The trick is sheer num­bers: over 2,300 Tech­nic mo­tors are con­nected into one huge en­gine block. This is di­vided into 24 mo­tor packs, each com­pris­ing 96 in­di­vid­ual mo­tors. On top of that, 96,768 Lego gears trans­fer the power to a 3D-printed car­bon fi­bre gear wheel, con­nected to the drive shaft.

The end re­sult is a whop­ping 5.3 horse­power, aimed to push the car up to around 30kph. This, ad­mit­tedly, doesn’t quite match up to the 1,479 horse­power and 400kph (248mph – that’s elec­tron­i­cally lim­ited) of the real Bu­gatti Ch­i­ron.

In fact, the en­gine was the most chal­leng­ing part of all from a me­chan­i­cal per­spec­tive, and not just be­cause it in­cludes well over 100,000 parts con­nected in­tri­cately. The first ver­sion was run­ning way too hot: 70°C, to be ex­act. The mo­tors couldn’t be changed for some­thing else, and it couldn’t be made much larger, so the team ex­per­i­mented with re­duc­ing fric­tion. They ended up us­ing Te­flon wash­ers and sil­i­con grease around the ro­tat­ing parts, which re­duced the tem­per­a­ture to a safer 32°C.

Hav­ing con­quered the tri­als of the struc­ture and the en­gine, one huge chal­lenge re­mained: how to best mimic the curved look of the Ch­i­ron us­ing the square an­gles of Lego.

The colour was rel­a­tively easy…

96,768 LEGO GEARS TRANS­FER THE POWER OF

2,304 ELEC­TRIC MO­TORS TO A 3D-PRINTED CAR­BON FI­BRE GEAR WHEEL

Tech­nic pieces were spe­cially cre­ated in the cor­rect hues to copy the look of the real Ch­i­ron. How­ever, the pieces were still the same hard shape.

The so­lu­tion to this prob­lem is the most vis­ually spec­tac­u­lar as­pect of the en­tire car, and mind-blow­ing in its in­ge­nu­ity: they cre­ated a Lego fab­ric. The mot­tled ef­fect you see in th­ese pic­tures is a re­sult of the Lego Ch­i­ron’s outer ‘skin’ be­ing made of tri­an­gles built from Tech­nic pieces, in two dif­fer­ent sizes, all tes­sel­lated to­gether. Hold a sheet build from this de­sign out flat and it flexes, like a wo­ven ma­te­rial.

The car it­self has an un­der­frame of Lego, with a se­ries of pil­lars stick­ing out from it, at dif­fer­ent heights. The ‘skin’ is mounted onto th­ese pil­lars, and so the way it sits over them cre­ates those all-im­por­tant curves.

Each of the pil­lars is ac­tu­ally a lin­ear ac­tu­a­tor, which means they can all have their heights in­di­vid­u­ally ad­justed by reach­ing through the gaps in the skin and screw­ing. It means the skin’s shape can be fine-tuned, even when it’s on the car, to make sure the or­ganic look is per­fect. This was orig­i­nally done by hand, but it was wreck­ing the team’s wrists. A drill was too pow­er­ful to do it pre­cisely, so they built a cus­tom low-power elec­tric drill for this spe­cific pur­pose out of – yep, you guessed it – Lego.

Re­cre­at­ing the look has been man­aged even bet­ter in other areas. To echo the car­bon fi­bre weave areas on the orig­i­nal car, a spe­cial weave of Lego was cre­ated for those parts. To cre­ate the dra­matic rear lights, the first ever trans­par­ent Lego Tech­nic bricks had to be pro­duced.

That wasn’t the only ex­tra mile the Lego team went to for the lights. They run on an elec­tri­cal sys­tem (con­trolled through an app, which talks to an adapted smart home con­troller buried deep in the body) that makes them light up in a pat­tern that copies ex­actly the way the orig­i­nal Ch­i­ron lights up when turned on, play­fully flash­ing along the strip of its head­lights.

WING­ING IT

The fi­nal cru­cial de­tail to get right was the rear wing. The Lego car’s five horse­power may mean it doesn’t have the need for a dra­matic air brake, but it’s not a Ch­i­ron with­out one. The Lego car’s wing is pneu­mat­i­cally pow­ered, with the air stored in eight Lego Tech­nic pneu­matic tanks. They take a few sec­onds of prim­ing, but then it’s just a mat­ter of a tap in the app to raise the wing to its brake po­si­tion.

Ag­o­nis­ingly, our visit to the Bug­gati test track was on the only rainy day they ex­pe­ri­enced there all sum­mer, so we couldn’t ac­tu­ally test the driv­abil­ity (and com­fort of that all-Lego in­te­rior). Well, we guess that’s the peril of a gappy, plas­tic elec­tric car.

RIGHT Dur­ing con­struc­tion, and with the car all in one piece, the team starts adding de­tails and lay­er­ing on the Lego skin

LEFTThe in­side is fully de­tailed and faith­ful to the orig­i­nal, though per­haps a tad pointier when it comes to curves

LEFTEarly sketches of the con­cept for the skin, which looks a lit­tle like de­signs for the Spi­der-Mo­bile

It has the men­ac­ing look of the ac­tual car, de­spite hav­ing the power of an el­derly don­key

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