Local Motors Debuts Autonomous, 3D-Printed Shuttle Bus Outside D.C

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Local Motors is “breaking the rules” (in a good way) after debuting a boxy shuttle for twelve passengers that is 3D-printed, drives itself and is the first to employ IBM Watson’s Internet of Things (IoT) for Automotive. Did I mention that the design for the vehicle was crowdsourced and that parts of the Olli are recyclable?

Remaking the manufacturing business one shuttle bus at a time?

Everything about the “Olli” from the Arizona-based Local motors is a bit different. It’s a philosophy, culture of innovation and just a different way of doing things that would make a present day oil exec of 80s automotive executive simply say “Damn Hippies.”

The Olli, a twelve person shuttle bus, made its debut at the company’s campus in the National Harbor yesterday and turned some heads. The National Harbor is a mixed-use facility that essentially makes up part of The Beltway and is a bridge crossing away from Alexandria, Virginia. It’s home to a convention center, a number of luxury hotels, shopping, restaurants, condominiums and a large Ferris wheel overlooking both the water and the development. As of the 2010 Census, about 4,000 people called National Harbor and of course its also the home of the new campus of Local Motors. That campus is a “garage” for inventors as well as 3D printing demonstration lab. It also has something for the kids with a STEM program that shows them that some 3D printed materials are nearly completely recyclable.

For those who visit the campus this summer, they will be treated to rides around the campus in the Olli, an opportunity to see the strides being made with 3D printing and even do a bit of printing themselves. At the event yesterday, John B. Rogers Jr., CEO and co-founder of Local Motors, sat down with Verge reporter Tamara Warren to explain the company’s vision.

“There is no more connected technology possible than a car, you just have to make it work,” he says. “The Strati (a 3D printed car that was first made at this campus) is the idea of what does a $5,000 car look like? And an Olli is, what does it mean to share [a car]? The future is full of both. In the future, it is shared transportation that is organizationally owned, there will be shared transportation that is privately owned, and then there will be transportation that is not shared that is privately owned. We’ll have all these,” he told her.

“There is no more connected technology possible than a car, you just have to make it work.”

Have powertrain, will travel

Rogers explained the importance of crowd-sourcing and open sourcing as well as the need for contracting and contracting with others for needed parts and tech. “We’ve just taken control of our first powertrain and our communities will open-source the powertrain,” Rogers says. “Once you control the powertrain, then we control the building of the vehicle. The motor and the sensors and electronics is something we can partner very well with other people. And we can buy the battery from a lot of people, whether it’s Tesla Energy or Samsung SDI.”

This crowdsourcing is what got IBM on board the project and the design of the Olli was the result of a contest where the winner will earn royalties. In this case the winner was a Colombian-born Italian named Edgar Sarmiento who said of the Olli in coveration with Warren who attended the event, “I tried to make this vehicle flexible to a lot of things. This one is a public solution for cities. It’s simple, minimalistic, to make a shape like a box, and all of this related to the use of the product. I was born in Bogotá, a big city that is going to reach 10 million people. It’s a context to start to think of problems in the city as far as transportation and to think of solutions.”

IBM and it’s Watson for cars is also there to help the vehicle learn about you and what it is you want. While you can build your profile so the Olli knows about you, you can can also save yourself the trouble and simply talk to it as Olli is equiped with speech-to-text sensors that will feed Watson.

“We do everything through voice and we translate language and combine it with other data,” Bret Greenstein, vice president of IBM IoT, told Warren “We’ll try to build as much of the experience and let the vehicle know about you so it can build your experience — favorite restaurant, what dry cleaner you use. There’s things you can define in a profile, or things you can learn as you go.”

On demand manufacturing for Local Motors

The shuttle that holds the distinction of being the first autonomous shuttle was only built over the last two weeks. The company intends to sell the Olli (and certainly other products) before they are built in order to keep its work force numbers down.

“Technology providers see us as a way to get their products to market,” Justin Fishkin, Local Motors’ Chief Strategic Officer, told Warren. “Two weeks ago we started building this vehicle. This is the world’s first autonomous on-demand shuttle. So basically you call it on an app and it picks you up just like Uber and it will talk to you.”

“Our business model is that we sell before we make, so we don’t have the inventory.”

While it’s clear that these first two were built to stay at the company’s National Harbor campus to demonstrate what could be, Local Motors is speaking with the municipalities of Miami-Dade and Las Vegas among others to attempt to land those orders so they can get printing and outfitting.

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About the Author

Brendan Byrne
While studying economics, Brendan found himself comfortably falling down the rabbit hole of restaurant work, ultimately opening a consulting business and working as a private wine buyer. On a whim, he moved to China, and in his first week following a triumphant pub quiz victory, he found himself bleeding on the floor based on his arrogance. The same man who put him there offered him a job lecturing for the University of Wales in various sister universities throughout the Middle Kingdom. While primarily lecturing in descriptive and comparative statistics, Brendan simultaneously earned an Msc in Banking and International Finance from the University of Wales-Bangor. He's presently doing something he hates, respecting French people. Well, two, his wife and her mother in the lovely town of Antigua, Guatemala. To contact Brendan or give him an exclusive, please contact him at theflask@gmail.com

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