Instead of using Uber, customers of the future may be hitching rides in driverless, 3D-printed shuttle buses. That's the vision of Local Motors, an Arizona-based startup that began giving test rides in their autonomous minibus for the first time this week, Phys.org reports.
Olli looks unlike anything else on the road today. The boxy electric bus carries up to 12 people at a time, and most of its components were made with a 3D-printer. Local Motors hopes to eventually make the vehicles printable in about 10 hours from one of hundreds of "micro factories" they would set up around the world.
Instead of a physical driver, IBM's Watson computing platform acts as the interface. Passengers can tell it verbally where they want to go and ask it questions like how the vehicle works, why it chooses certain routes, and what restaurants and attractions are nearby. The long-term goal of the project is to compete with ride-sharing services like Uber by allowing customers to hail one through an app. The first model is currently undergoing a trial run in National Harbor, Maryland, 10 miles outside of D.C., during which it will be monitored by a human attendant full-time.
Additional tests are expected to take place in Las Vegas, Miami, and possibly overseas. But according to Local Motors co-founder and chief executive John Rogers, the technology is already where it needs to be. The biggest obstacle standing in their way is regulations. The federal government is still working toward figuring out the legalities of driverless vehicles, so for now, Olli is only allowed on a limited number of public roads. Until the rules of the (driverless) road are outlined in more detail, Local Motors is primarily marketing the bus to airports and college campuses.
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