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Wild Ducks November podcast: Meet Olli, the first self-driving cognitive vehicle, from Local Motors

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The Wild Ducks podcast series gives us a chance to get to know technology’s hell-raisers: restless, creative people who are using technology to change the world in a major way. In November’s Wild Ducks podcast, presenters Bernhard Warner and Jeffrey O’Brien talk to Local Motors CEO Jay Rogers about the impact of Olli, the world’s first self-driving cognitive vehicle.

Is the world ready for the self-driving vehicle?

Self-driving vehicles have the potential to transform transportation logistics in cities where people are dependent on public transport. There’s some work still to do in establishing the rules of the road for self-driving vehicles and getting legislation up-to-date with the new technology – not to mention getting people on-side with the idea of driverless cars – but as far as the technology itself goes, we’re almost there.

Bernhard and Jeffrey met Jay Rogers of Local Motors, the visionary behind Olli – a self-driving, cognitive shuttle bus that’s a cross between a ride-hailing service and a municipal bus. Olli can already be seen on the streets of National Harbor Maryland and Berlin, and is proving to be a hit with the locals there.

The need for Olli: why the current model of public transport could be better

City-dwellers dependent on the system are crying out for something more efficient than the current model of public transport. To get from point A to point B involves waiting for an overcrowded bus, taking a predetermined route and stopping every few feet to let people on and off before eventually being dropped at a bus stop a few blocks from where you actually want to go. It’s hardly ideal.

Olli flips this concept on its head. You hail the bus from your smartphone, tell it where you want to go, and Olli dynamically works out a route that will drop off all of its passengers (up to 12 at a time) to their exact destination, by the quickest possible route. It even knows which roads are blocked by traffic, roadworks or adverse weather conditions, and can work out a route to avoid these pitfalls.

The birth of Olli

In the summer of 2015, the Local Motors ran a developers’ challenge in Berlin, focusing on reinventing mobility in the capital. The call went out to 60,000 designers, hobbyists and engineers, who were given cutting-edge technology to work with and instructions to design the vehicle of the future.

The winning design was an early form of Olli: a 3D printed, zero emissions, electric-powered minibus that could be summoned with an app. It wasn’t until the fourth incarnation of Olli that the vehicle became self-driving, however, when Local Motors teamed up with IBM in the spring of 2016. Thanks to Watson’s cognitive capabilities, Olli can now process huge data sets on the cloud, affording it new autonomous capabilities.

An evolving vehicle with plenty of street smarts

Thanks to Cloud, cognitive and IoT technologies, Olli has 360-degree vision and amazingly fast reflexes. 30 embedded sensors and the IBM Watson IoT platform make sense of around 100GB of data per day – information about everything from traffic, route mapping and weather updates. The ability to process huge data like this means Olli is constantly learning the best routes around the cities.

And that’s just outside. Inside the bus, natural language processing and text-to-speech capabilities enable Olli to talk to its passengers – answering their questions and making recommendations about the best restaurants in the area and whether or not they should bring an umbrella. It’s part chauffeur, part concierge, whose mission is to make travelling easy, swift and enjoyable.

Learn more

To learn more about Olli, listen to the podcast in full, and watch this video to see Olli in action and meet Jay Rogers of Local Motors.

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