The Local Motors Olli is a driverless EV minibus with IBM Watson inside

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Local Motors, well known for the crowdsourced Rally Fighter off-road coupe, has been diversifying lately. After starting some 3D-printed projects, it has gone in yet another direction, announcing the Olli, an electric minibus that looks like a large phonebooth that's been tipped on its side. And it's autonomous.

Local Motors refers to the vehicle as a shuttle it will transport up to 12 people from location to location along a pre-set route. The plan is to allow an Olli to be summoned using an app or a kiosk. It uses lidar, cameras, and GPS to move along its route, making adjustments as needed to avoid collisions. Currently, all Ollis will be monitored full-time by a human overseer, and Local Motors states that it will assume liability in the case of an accident.

Olli uses IBM's Watson, a cloud-based cognitive computing platform, to allow riders to vocally communicate with the vehicle. In addition to taking route requests, Watson allows an Olli to answer questions about the vehicle's design and function or suggest restaurants based on the destination.

Unlike the vehicles Local Motors is most famous for, the Olli was not a crowdsourced project. It was developed in-house and uses a mix of 3D-printed, aluminum, and steel parts throughout. The electric motor moves the Olli up to 25 mph, though Local Motors plans to eventually increase transit speeds. Legally, Olli can only operate on just a few public roads. Because of this, Local Motors is marketing the vehicle to places like university campuses and airports.

Local Motors Olli interior

Local Motors worked with a number of partners to develop the vehicle over the past year. A single Olli starts operation today at Local Motors' new facility in National Harbor, Maryland. By the end of the year, the company plans to have four vehicles operating in Denmark, two in Miami-Dade County Florida, and a single one in Las Vegas.

The company does acknowledge that autonomous vehicles are vulnerable to hacking, though it does claim that the vehicle's steering and braking are separate, off-line components.

Currently, the sole Olli in Maryland is free to ride. Local Motors said that fares are controlled by clients just like buses and cabs. The company won't disclose the cost of an Olli, but it did say that it can vary based on the vehicle's use and configuration.

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