Local Motors officially unveiled its self-driving shuttle Thursday and said it will begin giving free rides to the public in Maryland this summer.
The electric vehicle, which seats 12, will drive slowly on public roads in National Harbor, Md., operating at speeds between 3 and 8 mph, according to Local Motors chief executive Jay Rogers. He characterized Olli as a “friendly neighborhood robot” that isn’t capable of traveling on highways.
“A full win for Olli, when we can hook up the victory flag and say we’re done here, is when a city says no more cars on our streets,” said Rogers, citing concerns about distracted drivers creating unsafe situations for pedestrians and cyclists as a motivation for creating Olli.
Local Motors, which is best known for its 3-D printed vehicles, has produced two prototypes of Olli so far. A handful of its parts are 3-D printed, including the fenders. Rogers said the company has deals in place to operate in Las Vegas, Miami-Dade County and Denmark.
Eventually there will be a charge to ride on Olli, but not initially during pilot runs because the service won’t be offered on a set schedule. Local Motors recommends that anyone interested in riding visit the store to see what type of test ride opportunities will be occurring that day.
Rogers said Olli will travel at faster speeds as Local Motors becomes more confident in its abilities.
While many automakers and tech companies are pointing to 2020 as the time frame for when fully autonomous vehicle technology will be ready, Local Motors is jumping ahead with what is believed to be the first public trials in the United States of a completely self-driving vehicle. Olli has permission from National Harbor’s developer, Peterson Companies, to operate on the private roads it owns. Local Motors said it is in the process of working with Prince George’s County to get permission to operate on the surrounding public streets.
In early tests, the public will ride on Olli with at least one Local Motors engineer. Eventually no employee will be present.
Olli arrived in National Harbor this week to begin tests. The vehicle navigates via maps and a collection of sensors positioned on it. A pressure sensor on the front of Olli will trigger it to stop immediately if Olli strikes anything. Rogers said Olli will be able to function in rain or at night.
Local Motors has teamed with IBM Watson to add a voice interface so passengers can communicate with the vehicle while riding in it. Olli will be able to answer questions about where it is going, how the vehicle works and why it’s making certain decisions on the road. To summon the vehicle, an app will be used.
Eventually, Rogers said, facial recognition technology will be used to determine who has boarded Olli and make certain a rider who requested a ride boarded before the shuttle pulls away. The vehicle also senses how much its passengers weigh so that it can rebalance itself to ensure that its sensors have a complete view of the roadway.
Rogers said National Harbor was selected because of its proximity to government regulators, who would need to see self-driving vehicles in action. He also described Olli as an efficient way for visitors to get around National Harbor, rather than moving their cars from one parking garage to another or walking.
Local Motors hasn’t announced the exact date public testing will begin, but Rogers said it would post more information on the company’s website once it’s available.