Car maker Local Motors has partnered with IBM to create "Olli", the world’s first self-driving, electric minibus whose chassis is manufactured using 3D printing.
The automated vehicle, which can carry up to 12 people, is already moving passengers around Washington DC, and later this year will branch out to Miami and Las Vegas.
Olli understands human language, so you can walk in and say, ‘I’d like to get to work’. That then lets you as a passenger relax and enjoy your journey– Bret Greenstein, IBM
It takes about 24 hours to print an Olli, after which it is fitted with its battery and an IT system that makes use of IBM’s "Watson" cognitive learning technology.
Passengers will be able to flag down an Olli in much the same way as they hail a cab using an Uber app. Watson will then be able to "interact conversationally" with them, "discussing topics about how the vehicle works, where they are going, and why Olli is making specific driving decisions".
The chattiness of the IT does not distract it from its driving duties: according to the designers, Olli can see farther ahead and react more quickly to situations than a human driver could.
IBM’s Bret Greenstein told phys.org that Watson brings a human element to autonomous vehicles: "Watson is bringing an understanding to the vehicle. If you have someplace you need to be you can say that in your own words.
"Olli understands human language, so you can walk in and say, ‘I’d like to get to work’. That then lets you as a passenger relax and enjoy your journey."
Watson will also help Olli to analyse and learn from "high volumes of transportation data, produced by more than 30 sensors embedded throughout the vehicle".
Olli’s activity is supervised by a human at all times.
John Rogers, Local Motors’ co-founder, said: "There is a long list of cities that are interested."
Local Motors was founded in 2007 and is based in Arizona. It specializes in niche automobiles, electric bicycles, radio-controlled toys and skateboards.
Images via Local Motors