Powered by IBM’s supercomputer, Watson, an Arizona-based startup has unveiled a 3D-printed, autonomous bus. Olli is ready to be deployed as soon as regulations allow it, according to Local Motors, the brains behind the self-driving bus that can be printed and assembled in a matter of hours. Designed with on-demand ridesharing at its core, the 12-seater bus can be summoned remotely via an app, much like Uber – just without the driver.
According to Phys.org, Olli will be demonstrated with in the coming months, with more city trials scheduled for Las Vegas, Miami, Berlin, Copenhagen and Canberra. “Local Motors is about selling (the vehicles) into the markets that are ready now… We hope to be able to print this vehicle in about 10 hours and assemble it in another hour,” says Local Motors co-founder and chief executive John Rogers in an interview. The company notes that the City of Las Vegas has already ordered two vehicles, while Miami-Dade County is studying a pilot program to deploy a fleet of Ollis across Miami. “Improving the sustainability of local transportation networks as part of a wider goal to create more vibrant, livable, sustainable cities within Miami-Dade County, and improve the quality of life for residents is our top priority,” says Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez. “We must do more to improve transit and mobility in our community and the deployment of autonomous vehicles is a big step in the right direction.”
With safety and environmental-friendliness becoming a must for road transport, Olli is a fully electric vehicle, fitted with 360-degree camera, eliminating emissions and the notion of a blind-spot, respectively. Though equipped with Watson, Local Motors have developed their own operating system with various tech partners to control the bus. The IBM supercomputer platform instead is employed for the user interface. “Watson is bringing an understanding to the vehicle,” says IBM’s Bret Greenstein.
“Passengers will be able to interact conversationally with Olli while traveling from point A to point B, discussing topics about how the vehicle works, where they are going, and why Olli is making specific driving decisions. Watson empowers Olli to understand and respond to passengers’ questions as they enter the vehicle, including about destinations (“Olli, can you take me downtown?”) or specific vehicle functions (“how does this feature work?” or even “are we there yet?”). Passengers can also ask for recommendations on local destinations such as popular restaurants or historical sites based on analysis of personal preferences. These interactions with Olli are designed to create more pleasant, comfortable, intuitive and interactive experiences for riders as they journey in autonomous vehicles,” reads IBM’s press release.
Local Motor’s John Rogers sees Olli’s advantage over other self-driving solutions in the works is its ability to be printed an assembled anywhere in the world, envisioning a global network of “microfactories”. Meanwhile, the startup proudly states that it can customize the bus’ design based on customer needs, and do so quickly and cheaply as they lack the infrastructure costs of traditional automakers – some of which have already developed autonomous buses: In September 2015, China test drove its first fully automated bus through the city of Zhengzhou, filled with passengers and a ‘driver’ lounging, arms crossed behind his head, for added effect. Equipped with cameras, lasers and an integrated navigation system, it showed its ability to perform complex driving actions like changing lanes, overtaking other vehicles and responding to traffic lights. Soon after, pioneering ‘smart city’ Singapore announced it will testing fully automated buses on its roads in 2016. Self-driving shuttle buses arealready in operation on a high-tech French university campus and between stations on Helskinki Ring Rail Line, and the same robotics-fuelled engineering firm has just signed a deal to roll out their 12-person microbus in a Californian business park. Meanwhile, similar technology has just been adopted by the Swiss city of Sion’s main public transport operator, hoping to roll out a fleet by the first quarter of 2016.
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