With the convenience of Uber, the footprint of an electric car, the brains of a supercomputer, and the ease of public transportation, the world’s first self-driving smart bus truly could be the best of everything.
Olli, a self-driving bus developed by Local Motors, just took its first official ride in Washington, D.C. to rave reviews. Just three months ago, Olli was only an idea, but it has quickly grown through the development stages to implementation and could change the face of public transportation.
How Does Olli Work?
In the most basic sense, think of Olli as a driverless Uber bus. Riders use an app like that of Lyft or Uber to request a ride on the bus, which can pick them up and drop them up wherever they would like along a preset route. Olli can accommodate up to 12 passengers at a time in its sleek, telephone booth-esque design.
Similar to other autonomous cars, Olli users cameras, GPS, and lidar to create routes and avoid collisions. Although it is currently monitored by a human overseer to avoid collisions and liability, Olli will eventually be completely autonomous. It can currently only reach speeds of 25 miles per hour, making it a good fit for areas with high pedestrian traffic, such as busy downtown walking areas, airports, or college campuses. However, Local Motors plans to increase the speed capacity to allow Olli to pace with other self-driving vehicles.
Olli uses the technology of IBM’s Watson’s Internet of Things to converse with riders and turn obscure data into usable information. With voice technology similar to Apple’s Siri, all passengers need to do is speak to converse with Olli. Olli can give dinner recommendations, provide weather reports, change routes as needed, and much more as it learns from transportation data. When a passenger simply says, “Take me downtown, Olli,” the bus will respond and add the stop to the route. Olli is constantly learning and adapting; it has 30 sensors to collect user and transportation data, which allows it to make quick decisions and respond to riders’ questions. The goal is to make the ride pleasant and useful for customers.
“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,” said Harriet Green, general manager of commerce and education for IBM Watson Internet of Things. With Olli’s smart technology, things should only get better as it learns from traffic, passenger, and cloud data to make adjustments and improvements to the user experience.
3D Printing Construction
Part of Olli’s draw is its miniscule footprint, due in large part to its 3D printing construction. For each Olli, between one-fourth and one-third of the machine is 3D printed, with the rest constructed of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene and carbon fiber. For each Olli location, local 3D printing shops are tasked with printing various aspects of the bus. The parts are then assembled by Local Motors at micro-factories around the country before hitting the road—a total construction process that can take place in less than 12 hours.
The Future of Olli
The first 10 Olli busses will be on the road this summer around the National Harbor and serve as testers of sorts for usability and safety. By the end of 2016, Olli will have four units in Denmark, two in Miami Dade County in Florida, and one in Las Vegas. Local Motors is reportedly talking with cities in more than 50 countries who are interested in adopting the Olli. During the testing months, Olli won’t operate on a set schedule, which means rides will be free. Once schedules are set and the busses are operating at full capacity, a fee will be charged that will likely change according to location, distance, and usage.
To fill the expected need, Local Motor plans to build hundreds of micro-factories around the world to build the busses right where they will be used. This process will cut down on materials, energy, and transportation costs, among other things. Micro-factories also allow Ollies to be catered to local needs according to local weather or road conditions.
Olli definitely shakes things up for the future of public transportation. Although it is still very limited by where it can drive based on autonomous driving regulations, Olli has the potential to become a powerful player in niche markets, and as self-driving vehicle regulations are established, Olli could potentially be seen on major streets around the world.