Meet Olli, an innovative self-driving minibus that can be 3D-printed in a matter of hours. Developed by Arizona-based Local Motors, in collaboration with IBM, the on-demand transport solution works much like Uber, and can summoned using a smartphone app. According to the company, the 12-seater vehicle can be printed in special “micro factories” in only a few hours.
Although autonomous cars have been around for some time now, with bigwigs like Google, Tesla Motors and Mercedes-Benz having their versions, it might still be several years before they can actually hit the road. The Olli, on the other hand, is already ready to be deployed, just as soon as regulations allow it. Speaking about the car, Local Motors CEO John Rogers said:
The technology has been ready—fielding it is what has been hard. Local Motors is about selling (the vehicles) into the markets that are ready now.
Recently unveiled at the company’s facility in Maryland’s National Harbor, the driverless vehicle is expected to undergo testing in Miami and Los Angeles in the coming months. Backed by 45 investors, Local Motors is currently trying to acquire permission for conducting similar trials in major cities across the globe, including Canberra, Berlin and Copenhagen.
According to Rogers, the team at Local Motors is building the self-driving minibus from ground up, using special 3D printers. If everything goes according to plan, it might not be long before the vehicles are manufactured in “micro-factories” around the world. What is more, the developers can easily customize the design, based on the customers’ preferences and desires. Rogers added:
We hope to be able to print this vehicle in about 10 hours and assemble it in another hour.
The Ollie is driven by means of an advanced computer system designed by the engineers at Local Motors, along with its other software partners. IBM is also part of the team, and is tasked with developing a smart user interface, called Watson, that allows passengers to communicate with the vehicle. Bret Greenstein of IBM said:
Watson is bringing an understanding to the vehicle. If you have someplace you need to be you can say that in your own words. A vehicle that understands human language, where you can walk in and say, ‘I’d like to get to work,’ that lets you as a passenger relax and enjoy your journey.
The highly-intuitive Watson technology makes use of “natural language” recognition, aimed at fostering “a relationship between the passengers” and the vehicle. The system, according to Greenstein, is equipped with as many as 30 specialized sensors , while also relying on data streams from IBM’s cloud. This means that the people inside the minibus can ask a variety of questions, such as how the vehicle actually works, and even the oft-asked “Are we there yet?”. Furthermore, the vehicle can offer suggestions regarding nearby restaurants and historical sites, based on the passengers’ preferences. Harriet Green of IBM said:
Cognitive computing provides incredible opportunities to create unparalleled, customized experiences for customers, taking advantage of the massive amounts of streaming data from all devices connected to the Internet of Things, including an automobile’s myriad sensors and systems.
To learn more about Olli, head over to the official website of Local Motors.