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Hello, Olli: 3D Printed, Self-Driving IBM Watson-Powered Bus Hits The Road

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Electric. Driverless. 3D-printed. These features best describe a vehicle of the future — and all three are found in Olli, the new self-driving electric minibus designed by Local Motors and powered by IBM Watson.

And did we mention Olli is (partially) recyclable too?

If the concept behind its manufacturing is a little out of the ordinary, then that's because Local Motors is indeed hoping to reinvent the whole practice of building (and rebuilding) vehicles.

For one, the manufacturer takes inspiration from crowdsourced vehicle designs and is set to offer some of the world's first 3D printed cars this year — a refreshing approach to car manufacturing.

Olli's own design was submitted by Edgar Sarmiento, a student of car design who wanted to keep the bus "simple" and "minimalistic."

"This one is a public solution for cities," Sarmiento tells The Verge.

'Smart, Safe, Sustainable'

Just how innovative is Olli? The driverless bus' manufacturing process is, first of all, one of the most efficient in the auto industry.

After 3D printing the vehicle parts at a "microfactory" for just 10 hours, builders can put together the final product within just another hour. At these microfactories, communities can open-source the powertrain.

"The motor and the sensors and electronics [are] something we can partner very well with other people," shares John B. Rogers, Jr., Local Motors CEO and cofounder.

Not only is the "hardware" easy to produce and assemble, but the "software" is also intelligent and user-friendly. It can understand natural human language, such as when a passenger asks about the destination.

Olli's brain power is based on IBM Watson's Internet-of-Things platform for Automotive, making the minibus the first EV to feature the cloud-based computing capability.

"Olli offers a smart, safe and sustainable transportation solution that is long overdue," Rogers says.

Olli's Future Is Looking Bright

Soon, when the operations of the minibus are in full swing, passengers will be able to summon one for a ride by using an app, similar to how people today hail Uber.

The electric bus will be going around Washington D.C. on trial runs all summer long, but it will be hitting the road too in Miami and Las Vegas, as well as Berlin, Germany.

The 12-seater EV was unveiled in National Harbor during the opening of Local Motors' new facility in Maryland, but more microfactories are also set to open.

The event showcased innovative techniques in 3D printing and the recycling of 3D-printed cars. It also aimed to encourage children to take up an interest in engineering and the sciences.

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