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Car and Driver: On the (Self-Driving) Bus with IBM’s Watson

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-IBM has teamed up with Local Motors, a Phoenix-based automotive manufacturer that made the first 3D-printed car, to create a self-driving electric bus. Named “Olli,” the bus has room for 12 people and uses IBM Watson’s cloud-based cognitive computing system to provide information to passengers.
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In addition to automatically driving you where you want to go using Phoenix Wings autonomous-driving technology, Olli can respond to questions and provide information, similar to Amazon’s Echo home assistant. The bus just recently debuted in the Washington D.C. area for the public to use during select times over the next several months, and the IBM-Local Motors team hopes to introduce Olli to the Miami and Las Vegas areas by the end of the year.

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By using Watson’s speech-to-text, natural language classifier, entity extraction, and text-to-speech APIs, the bus can provide several services beyond taking you to your destination. You can give Olli commands to take you to a specific location or somewhere generally like the closest grocery store, and you can also ask the bus questions about how it works, why it’s stopping, where it’s going next, even what the weather will be like or the score to a sporting event. Olli will also recommend a nice restaurant for you or tell you about the local attractions.

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“Cognitive computing provides incredible opportunities to create unparalleled, customized experiences for customers, taking advantage of the massive amounts of streaming data from all devices connected to the Internet of Things, including an automobile’s myriad sensors and systems,” said Harriet Green, General Manager of IBM Watson Internet of Things, Commerce & Education, in a press release.

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“IBM is excited to work with Local Motors to infuse IBM Watson IoT cognitive computing capabilities into Olli, exploring the art of what’s possible in a world of self-driving vehicles and providing a unique, personalized experience for every passenger while helping to revolutionize the future of transportation for years to come.”

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There are many who believe the future will be filled with self-driving cars without individual owners that come pick you up like taxis. Clearly a bus is the first logical step in that direction. They just should have named it “Otto.”

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This story originally appeared on Popular Mechanics.

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