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Hi, Olli: First 3D-printed, self-driving bus hits U.S. roads

Olli relies on IBM Watson's AI. (Photo: Rich Riggins for IBM/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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The electric minibus will be powered by IBM’s Watson artificial intelligence (AI) tech.

Fully electric, autonomous, 3D-printed. Three seemingly separate mega trends in mobility and future tech have now all been combined in one vehicle.

In a joint approach, companies Local Motors and IBM have designed the world’s first 3D-printed, electric-powered, self-driving shuttle. The Arizona-based auto startup and the IT titan unveiled their latest innovation during the Grand Opening of a new Local Motors facility in Maryland, U.S., last week.

According to an Inquirer report, the intelligent bus dubbed Olli can transport up to 12 people – and it is decked out with some of the world’s most advanced vehicle technology. As detailed in an IBM statement, Olli will be run by Watson, IBM’s Internet of Things (IoT) artificial intelligence platform. Its accumulated brainpower will help improve passenger experience and allow natural interaction with the vehicle.

“Olli offers a smart, safe and sustainable transportation solution that is long overdue,” says Local Motors CEO and co-founder John B. Rogers in an IBM press release. “Olli with Watson acts as our entry into the world of self-driving vehicles, something we’ve been quietly working on with our co-creative community for the past year.”

Olli is also a surprisingly chatty vehicle: Utilizing Watson’s computing power, Olli analyzes and learns from high amounts of transportation data, which are gathered by its more than 30 sensors. Riders will be able to engage in a conversation with Olli while traveling from A to B. They can discuss how the vehicle works and ask him about specific driving decisions or popular destinations along the way, for example restaurants. According to IBM, these interactions will primarily create a more pleasant, intuitive and interactive experience for riders – an experience that perfectly mirrors one key goal of automated vehicles: to make driving more comfortable.

Olli is now being used on public roads in Washington, D.C., and will be showcased in Miami and Las Vegas in late 2016. The bus's components had been 3D-printed at a Local Motors microfactory, which is deemed a promising way to bring down the cost of making future cars. 

Read the full Inquirer article here. Find the original IBM press release here.

Take a guided tour and learn more about Olli in IBM's video:

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