IBM today announced that Watson, its AI platform, will be powering a range of services in a new self-driving bus concept named Olli. Designed by Local Motors, Olli is electric-powered, caries up to 12 people and will start operating in Washington DC soon, followed by other cities like Las Vegas and Miami-Dade County by Fall this year. However, Olli's pilot program to carry passengers will be conducted in Miami before commercial variants are rolled out. Unlike Google, IBM will not assist with self-driving technologies in Olli but will power other services aimed at improving commuter experience. “IBM technology, including IBM Watson or IBM Watson IoT technology, does not control, navigate or drive Olli. Rather, the IBM Watson capabilities of Olli will help to improve the passenger experience and allow natural interaction with the vehicle,” IBM said in a statement.
Local Motor's Olli will be the world's first self-driven public transportation vehicle and will benefit from four APIs that will come with Watson, namely Speech to Text, Natural Language Classifier, Entity Extraction and Text to Speech. Olli will be riddled with a number of Watson-enabled sensors using which it will be able to perform a range of functions like interacting with commuters about routes and destinations as well as analyzing transportation data. It will also be able to help passengers with information about local landmarks and will also offer suggestions on nearby restaurants. “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. I’m thrilled to see what our open community will do with the latest in advanced vehicle technology,” said John B. Rogers, co-founder of Local Motors.
Harrier Green, General Manager of IBM Watson's IoT, Commerce & Education said that IBM's motive to power the Olli was to provide a unique, personalized experience for every passenger using cognitive computing technologies. Watson will communicate with all IoT devices and sensors installed in the Olli to provide passengers with detailed information about their routes as well as the city. The program has received support from the Miami-Dade County, whose Mayor Carlos Gimenez believes that deployment of autonomous vehicles is a big step towards improving transit and mobility in the community. Even though the Olli's launch and commercial deployment may clash with the Google Car's itinerary, their long term performance will determine if commuters would prefer a self-driven car or a self-driven minibus to travel around the city. If traffic congestion is an issue, the latter will surely be an obvious choice.