Local Motors Plans ‘Full-On’ Rollout of Its Self-Driving Shuttles

The car of the future is connected, autonomous, electric, and has a unique character. At least that’s what IBM Watson and Local Motors had in mind, when creating Olli – a 3D-printed, crowdsourced, self-driving, cognitive shuttle bus. 

Thanks to a network of contributors, Local Motors developed Olli in less than three months, and printed the first prototype in a week. The company introduced the prototype in June 2016, and is currently prepping a full-on production release, Alex Fiechter, head of product development at Local Motors, told Mobility Buzz. “We have four units in pre-production as we speak, but the goal is to have 120 units ready-to-go by the end of 2017,” he said.

The company is picturing a “staged approach” for the rollout of its buses. “We are starting with more controlled environments, such as university or corporate campuses, or resorts, and then work our way to public streets with very regulated traffic, and then to plazas with more unregulated population traffic,” Fiechter explained. “A lot of cities with dense populations are reimagining their transportation infrastructure, so those are a good opportunity for Olli as well.”

Local Motors will remain the sole service provider for companies or organizations that integrate a fleet of Olli, continually upgrading the software as Olli adds new features.

With a network of outside contributors, the Arizona-based automaker has managed to keep its team close to 130 employees, but “with a project this big,” that’s about to change, Fiechter said. The company plans to add members to both its development and manufacturing operations.

The shuttle is the first of its kind to adopt IBM Watson’s cognitive learning platform, called Watson Internet of Things for Automotive. And that unique element, IBM bets, is what adds character and helps riders trust driverless vehicles.

Plus, if James Corden had no problem trusting Olli, why would anyone?

Olli is certainly not the only project that Local Motors is working on: last month, the automaker unveiled a 3D-printed car, equipped with a 3D-printed drone, which can provide a video feedback to the driver of, say, the traffic conditions ahead.

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