IBM Watson drives 3D-printed autonomous bus around Washington DC

IBM has teamed up with an electric vehicle company to put its Watson artificial intelligence into a driverless electric bus.

Dubbed Olli, the autonomous vehicle will be used to take passengers around Washington DC, and is the brainchild of Local Motors, the Arizona-based automaker. It said its bus is the first vehicle to use IBM Watson's car-focused cognitive learning platform, Watson Internet of Things (IoT) for Automotive.

Local Motors unveiled the bus at its new facility in National Harbor, Maryland, 12 miles from the US capital. The bus itself is 3D-printed and can carry up to 12 people and is powered by an electric motor. There are more than 30 sensors integrated into the vehicle to help it get around town.

Using the Local Motors open vehicle development process, sensors will be added and adjusted continuously as passenger needs and local preferences are identified. The bus uses four Watson developer APIs - Speech to Text, Natural Language Classifier, Entity Extraction and Text to Speech - to enable interactions between the vehicle and passengers.

Passengers will be able to talk to the bus, discussing topics about how the vehicle works, where they are going, and why Olli is making specific driving decisions.

The Watson technology will enable Olli to understand and respond to passengers' questions as they enter the vehicle, including about destinations ("Olli, can you take me downtown?") or specific vehicle functions ("how does this feature work?" or even "are we there yet?").

Passengers can also ask for recommendations on local destinations such as popular restaurants or historical sites based on analysis of personal preferences.

Local Motors CEO and co-founder John Rogers said that Olli offered a "smart, safe and sustainable transportation solution that is long overdue".

"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. We are now ready to accelerate the adoption of this technology and apply it to nearly every vehicle in our current portfolio and those in the very near future," he said.

Olli will be available for rides by the public over the summer and Miami-Dade County is said to be exploring a pilot programme in which several autonomous vehicles would be used to transport people around Miami.

Picture courtesy of IBM on Flickr

Rene Millman

Rene Millman is a freelance writer and broadcaster who covers cybersecurity, AI, IoT, and the cloud. He also works as a contributing analyst at GigaOm and has previously worked as an analyst for Gartner covering the infrastructure market. He has made numerous television appearances to give his views and expertise on technology trends and companies that affect and shape our lives. You can follow Rene Millman on Twitter.