IBM Watson Makes The Wheels On The Olli Self-Driving Bus Go Round-And-Round

Google’s self-driving cars have largely been a west coast affair (save for a pilot program in Austin, Texas), but those on the east coast looking to catch a glimpse at a computer-driven vehicle on public roads will soon have their chance. Local Motors, which has already garnered plenty of attention as being the first company in the world to 3D print a car, has teamed up with IBM to rollout the Olli self-driving bus.

Olli uses a tweaked version of IBM Watson IoT, which is geared towards automotive applications.  Olli has room for up to 12 passengers and has over 30 sensors spread throughout the vehicle. By taking advantage of four Watson APIs — which include Speech to Text, Natural Language Classifier, Entity Extraction and Text to Speech — passengers will be able to interact with Olli as it shuttles them down the road. Olli can actually respond to questions tossed its way and can even answer to commands on where to drive. So a passenger could technically say “Take me to the train station” and Olli would comply.

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Now we should point out that while Watson provides the brains behind the rider experience/interactions with Olli, it does not actually handle the self-driving duties.

“Olli offers a smart, safe and sustainable transportation solution that is long overdue,” said Local Motors CEO and co-founder John Rogers, Jr. “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.”

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"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," added Harriet Green, General Manager for the IBM Watson Internet of Things division.

Olli weighs just 3,300 pounds and has a maximum carrying capacity of 2,200 pounds. The electric vehicle has a driving range of 32 miles and a top speed of just 12 mph, so don’t expect to get to your destination in a hurry. Olli makes its debut on public roads in Washington, D.C. today and will head to Miami-Dade County and Las Vegas later this year.