Tiny (they only seat 12), talking, electric, driverless buses – they’re approachable, environmentally responsible by multiple metrics, app-summonable, and they aim to bridge the gap between people and robots.
There’s a lot to get excited about with Olli, the automated buses that Local Motors will be launching in Las Vegas and Miami in 2017.
For one thing, they represent a leap forward in fully automated, driverless vehicles – potentially years ahead of fully autonomous passenger vehicles.
Although most predictions agree that the technology is years away from full automation, many companies are vying for dominance in the growing field.
Delphi and Mobileye are making waves with their hopes to release a version of a self-driving car kit in 2017, and given some of their industry advantages, they have the potential to jump ahead of their competitors.
According to the Society of Automotive Engineers outline, Olli buses would be Level 4 on the automated driving system scale, which is beyond any self-driving passenger cars currently available.
Unlike the Uber self-driving car launch in Pittsburgh this year, the Olli buses will be supervised remotely but do not appear to have a back-up driver riding along. That driver, who takes over when things get tricky, keeps the Uber fleet at a Level 3.
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Olli buses aim to do more than advance self-driving car technology.
CEO Jay Rogers told CNN that he imagines a near future where Olli can “deliver medicine, provide advertising on demand, or roll up en masse in an area where there is an active shooter and block people so they can get out of harm's way."
The buses will use IBM’s Watson, cutting edge “cognitive technology” that hopes to provide an engaging, responsive, conversational interaction for passengers.
IBM and Local Motors want to foster a friendly relationship between customers and the robot. Watson may also connect to users’ social media, for more personalization.
Watson is also an Internet of Things platform, and the connectivity of the buses to a wide range of other connected devices such as apps, maps, sensors, and monitors both on the vehicle and beyond is a critical part of what will make the buses safe and effective.
The buses use haptic sensors to ensure that they stop when they contact anything, and uses lidar to see the surroundings.
Olli’s production model also hopes to address some of the environmental impact of vehicle production.
Not only is Olli entirely electric, with wireless recharging, the production includes 3-D printing for parts of the vehicle. These materials generate fewer carbon emissions, and they can be broken down and reused.
Although Olli hasn’t debuted yet, and will have a limited first release on campuses and airports, chances are you will see on-demand, driverless, highly interactive buses in a city centre near you within a few years.
By Tiffany Sostar
Tiffany is a writer, editor, academic, and animal lover who came late to her appreciation of pets. At 18, a rescue pup named Tasha saved her from a depression and she hasn't looked back. She has worked as the canine behaviour program coordinator for the Calgary Humane Society, and was a dog trainer specializing in working with fearful and reactive dogs for many years. She doesn't have any pets right now, but makes up for it by giving her petsitting clients (and any dogs she comes across on her frequent coffee shop adventures) extra snuggles.