3D-printed autonomous minibus

Olli the autonomous minibus. Image courtesy Local Motors

Technology for a printed, driverless minibus named Olli is ready to go, according to John Rogers, co-founder and chief executive officer of Local Motors. The hard part is getting people and governments ready for it.

Local Motors, a Phoenix, Arizona, company designed the self-driving vehicle to accommodate 12 people. It has an on-demand system — riders can beckon a ride via a mobile app, according to Agence France Presse, via IOL. It operates with IBM’s Watson Internet of Things cloud-based system.

Printed Vehicles

Local says it’s different from other companies because it can print the vehicles, customizing them for local governments and other buyers, without the prohibitive infrastructure costs of more traditional auto manufacturing. Noting that he foresees hundreds of mini factories producing Olli buses around the world, Rogers said:

We hope to be able to print this vehicle in about 10 hours and assemble it in another hour.

The minibus weighs in at about 3,307 pounds, and its electric motor produces 40.23 horsepower to give it a top speed of 12.5 mph. Its on-board batteries give it a range of 31 miles before it needs recharging.

National Harbor, Maryland, already has a prototype of Olli in service, although there is a human “supervisor” on the bus for now. Two Ollis will be running commercially in Las Vegas, Nevada, by the end of this year, as well as several in Miami, Florida, and four in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Passenger-Chosen Routes

In an article in The Christian Science Monitor, Andrew Ganz writes for MotorAuthority that what is most outstanding about Olli is not that it’s autonomous, but rather, how passengers will be able to tell the bus where they want to go. The bus’ high-tech processor then chooses the best route.

Although tests of Olli have covered only small geographical areas, Local Motors and IBM say a more advanced model could navigate a whole city. Olli is the first autonomous vehicle to use the Watson system.

Ganz notes:

IBM’s Watson project is perhaps best-known for beating three Jeopardy champions all the way back in 2010.

Introducing Olli

A video introducing Olli features animated graphics as well as photos, and gives Olli an English accent. In fact Olli’s voice sounds very much like Nikki Bedi, host of the BBC radio program The Arts Hour.

In the introduction video, Olli has a confidant personality and says that human drivers have car accidents and pollute the earth, but that she can run like a chartered shuttle, a taxi service, or maneuver like a network of connected points. “I am the first of the robots that will be taking over,” Olli says, adding, “I jest.”

In addition to bringing people across town or campus, proposals include using Olli as a mobile gym, a bus-cafe hybrid, and even a rolling meeting space that picks up attendees.

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