Olli the driverless bus: what self-driving cars will really look like

A self-driving bus called Olli can learn its passengers' likes and dislikes, and respond naturally to their demands. Could this be the future of driverless cars?

160622-olli-b

Self-driving cars make the news more or less daily but when autonomous vehicles start populating our streets, they won't necessarily belong to individuals.

I've never driven a car, and never plan to. I live in a densely populated city with excellent buses and trains. Like millions of other people, I can get anywhere I want without sitting in a car.

Subscribe to MoneyWeek

Become a smarter, better informed investor with MoneyWeek.

Cars are expensive to buy, expensive to insure, and expensive to maintain. And though their price will drop over time, the same issues will dog electric cars.

Specialist US vehicle manufacturer Local Motors has realised that. That's why it's developed a self-driving minibus, set to start operating in the US before the year is out.

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

"Olli", which looks a bit like a squashed airport shuttle, can carry up to 12 people. It uses data from 30 embedded sensors to analyse huge volumes of transportation data, adjusting its methods and performance according to the information it receives. The more Olli drives, the better it gets.

That much is familiar. But Olli does more than just drive people from one place to another. The smart vehicle uses IBM's "Watson" technology to interact with passengers, who can ask Olli how long it'll take to get intotown, or how to use one of the vehicle's features.

Passengers can simply tell Olli they're hungry, and the vehicle will recommend a restaurant. If the weather forecast is bad, Olli will remind you to bring an umbrella.

Just like Olli's ability to drive, these features improve with use. So if passengers show a preference for Bob's Seafood over Janet's Pasta Paradise, Olli will remember, and be more likely to remember it next time.

Natural language processing makes computers human

Natural language processing (NLP) the ability of a computer to understand human speech is going to become increasingly important. Talking to your smartphone assistant is already commonplace(ish), but asking your fridge how full it is isn't far off.

These things aren't unconnected. As the internet of things (IoT) becomes more expansive as more data is collected from all our connected devices those devices will work more effectively.

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

What makes IBM's Watson IoT so effective is its ability to structure a mass of unstructured data, providing Olli passengers with information that is pertinent to their trip. There wouldn't be much point in the vehicle telling you how far away the car in frontis but news of a traffic jam between you and your destination would be worth relaying.

In the promotional video for his product, Local Motors CEO Jay Rogers interacts very smoothly indeed with Olli. He uses colloquial language, whichthe system understands easily; when he greets the machine, it compliments him on his bow tie.

Of course, Olli might work less well in real time (or when it's not talking to the man who helped build it), but if it's even a little bit as responsive as it looks, it's revolutionary. And, as Rogers stresses, this isn't a prototype. Ten vehicles have already been sold.

By the time this technology is widespread, it will be even better. The idea of an unsocial vehicle will be as foreign as the idea of a Model T is today.

Advertisement

Recommended

Visit/514516/the-tech-stock-bubble-continues-but-wise-investors-should-look-for-value-elsewhere
Investment strategy

The tech stock bubble continues – but wise investors should look for value elsewhere

As tech stocks continue to soar, real value has been forgotten. It’s fine to hold tech, says Merryn Somerset Webb, but investors should look for value…
9 Sep 2019
Visit/506332/dont-buy-into-tech-stock-ipos
Stock markets

Don’t buy into tech company IPOs

Tech firms are listing on the stockmarket in their droves, with their private-equity backers raking in the cash. That’s perfectly sensible. What’s not…
6 May 2019
Visit/investments/stocks-and-shares/share-tips/600694/how-to-play-the-galloping-growth-of-the-gaming
Share tips

How to play the galloping growth of the gaming sector

Digital games have become so popular that the market is now bigger than both the television-streaming and film industries. Yet years of expansion stil…
23 Jan 2020
Visit/519928/whatever-happened-to-blockchain
Alternative finance

Whatever happened to blockchain?

Not long ago investors were getting hyped up about blockchain. Then they dropped it. But they should take another look, says Ben Judge.
2 Jan 2020

Most Popular

Visit/investments/commodities/gold/600686/gold-and-silver-bull-market-2020
Gold

Want to make money in 2020? Gold and silver are looking like a good bet

If you want to make money from investing, says Dominic Frisby, it’s simple: find a bull market and go long. And in 2020 gold and silver are in a bull …
22 Jan 2020
Visit/economy/global-economy/600711/the-charts-that-matter-coronavirus-or-a-liquidity-air-pocket
Global Economy

The charts that matter: coronavirus – or a liquidity air pocket?

With the yield curve showing worrying signs of flatlining again. John Stepek wonders what's to blame and turns to the charts that matter most to the g…
25 Jan 2020
Visit/investments/stocks-and-shares/share-tips/600672/share-tips-of-the-week
Share tips

Share tips of the week

MoneyWeek’s comprehensive guide to the best of this week’s share tips from the rest of the UK's financial pages.
24 Jan 2020
Visit/investments/investment-strategy/600709/the-coronavirus-is-scary-but-its-irrelevant-to-your
Investment strategy

The coronavirus is scary – but it's irrelevant to your investments

The spread of the coronavirus is causing alarm around the world. And, while it could be a serious short-term threat to human health, it’s not somethin…
24 Jan 2020