#AccessibleOlli drives us forward at CES

By | 3 minute read | January 12, 2018

#AccessibleOlli was at CES 2018, showing us that

Did you know that 15 percent of us live with disabilities? That jumps to 25 percent for people 50+. And by the time we’re 65, half of us will have one or more impairments.

That’s why #AccessibleOlli was such a draw at this year’s CES with it’s very worthy mission: autonomous for all of us.

What is Olli

If you aren’t familiar with Olli, it’s an all-electric, partially 3D-printed, self-driving vehicle with a cognitive rider experience. Holding up to 10 people, this autonomous shuttle is the result of a co-creation challenge and rapid prototyping. Taking it a step further with a collaboration between Local Motors, IBM and CTA foundation and 17 other partners, #AccessibleOlli was created. This #AccessibleOlli is 90 percent 3D-printed, and uses technology to provide solutions for those with vision and hearing loss, cognitive disorders and mobile constraints.

#AccessibleOlli showed up at this year's CES to demonstration how IoT technology can create better mobility options for people with disabilities.
#AccessibleOlli on the Las Vegas Convention Center floor at this year’s CES.

An immersive experience

The always-packed CES booth gave visitors an immersive #AccessibleOlli experience to help them, as someone said, “put on their empathy hat.” Because, as Eric Jenney, program director of corporate strategy, SPEED program for IBM, explained, “One of the things we learned early on is that transportation can be a very segregating experience for people with disabilities.”

Attendees met and talked with Erich Manser, part of the IBM Research team. Erich is legally blind, and serves as one of the four personas that #AccessibleOlli can help. He’s also a heavy user of public transportation. And under normal circumstances, finding an unoccupied bus seat can be a problem. But part of the beauty of #AccessibleOlli is its ability to personalize the experience for each user.

Erich Manser, part of the IBM Research team, helped immerse visitors in the #AccessibleOlli project.
IBMer Erich Manser set the immersive stage for visitors to the #AccessibleOlli booth.

Thanks to an RFID card, similar to a bus pass or metro card, that a user like Erich would carry, riders are “known” in advance to the vehicle. Then, as Erich explained, “Our ability to use things like text to speech, really helps to create audible experiences.”

Designed by people with impairments, for people with impairments

As all well-designed product do, #AccessibleOlli started with research. Thousands of people with disabilities provided input. Sheila Zinck, IBM accessibility programs director, talked to retirement communities to find out how willing its residents would be to try autonomous transportation.

Concerned that older adults would be resistant to self-driving technology, Shelia was surprised to discover just how willing they were to be early adopters. “You can be in the most beautiful facility in the world, but if you don’t have the agency to easily go out and go shopping, or go to your own doctor’s appointments or go out to dinner, your life just contracts.”

The IBM role

So why is IBM involved in this project? Because the Internet of Things (IoT) offers promising ways to enable people with disabilities through new technology. Olli uses Watson APIs and a Watson-powered assistant, along with IBM IoT for Automotive. And with IoT, you can acquire data through sensors to understand people’s needs. Then you can combine it with additional information through the cloud to create new solutions for extending mobility.

#AccessibleOlli was an amazing conversation stater for creating a more autonomous and accessible world.#

Disability personas

At this year’s CES, the #AccessibleOlli display focused on four disabilities, and each was summarized through a persona:

  • Erich, who we met earlier, has degenerative vision loss as he is nearly blind.
  • Brent has hearing loss. Partner KinTrans provides a solution to understand and communicate via sign language, which was demonstrated in the booth. Eventually, Watson will help with sign language recognition.
  • Katherine uses a wheelchair. For her, Olli has a smart retractable wheelchair ramp and securement system.
  • Grace has early-stage dementia and sometimes forgets when to get off her bus. Technologies will help recognize her and give her gentle reminders to help keep her on track.

What’s next for #AccessibleOlli?

After CES, the journey continues, literally.  #AccessibleOlli will be moved to National Harbor, MD, near Washington DC, where it will continue to be a lab, integrating new technologies through ongoing labs and workshops. Along with our partners and contributors, we’ll all continue to build out solutions.

Thank you, #AccessibleOlli, for creating a true “autonomous for all of us” experience. And in the words of our special booth attendee, the musical legend Stevie Wonder, “We all have ability. The difference is in how we use it.”

Musical legend Stevie Wonder, made a surprise stop at the #AccessibleOlli booth at CES 2018.I
IBMer Eric Jenney and Local motors EVP, Matthew Rivett, posed with musical legend Stevie Wonder,
who made a surprise visit to the #AccessibleOlli booth at CES 2018. 

Musical legend Stevie Wonder made a surprise stop at the #AccessibleOlli booth at CES 2018.
Stevie Wonder and Lighthouse for the Blind CEO, Michael May, take a seat at #AccessibleOlli during