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Watson-enhanced self-driving shuttle may help millions with disabilities

August 7, 2017

IBM has entered autonomous car race, and is on it’s way to mobilize people with disabilities. In June 2016, the tech company, in collaboration with Local Motors, introduced the Olli shuttle, the first self-driving vehicle enhanced with IBM’s artificial intelligence platform, Watson Internet of Things (IoT). One year later, the Olli pilot program has begun in Germany and Switzerland, and is planned to launch in select US cities and college campuses in 2018. 

Sachin Lulla, Global Vice President for Automotive Strategy and Solutions Leader at IBM said that Olli also has the potential to keep the estimated one billion people with living with disabilities and the older population independent and mobile. “This was a big experiment for IBM,” at the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) Management Briefing Seminars last week. “We wanted to build the world’s most accessible vehicle.”

The 3-D printed, electric bus operates using artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and smartphone apps, and can accommodate up to 12 passengers with vision, hearing, physical and cognitive disabilities. It navigates by the combined technology of radar, lidar, and optical cameras, and can travel up to 35-miles-per-hour.

The driverless vehicle can communicate conversationally with passengers – verbally or by text – enabling them to interact with Olli as they would a human driver. People can ask it range of questions too, such as travel information and even local restaurant recommendations. 

Olli is also equipped with pullout ramps for wheelchair users, and each seat is implanted with a sensor to help people with low vision find an empty place to sit. Reminder alerts can be set for people with Alzheimer’s disease or cognitive disabilities to keep them from leaving personal items behind.

The second model of Olli, dubbed “Accessible Olli” is set to hit markets in 2018, and will include additional assistive technologies. IBM has been tight-lipped about what they might be, but Lulla said,“it’s about mass personalization – we have to cater to everyone’s personal preferences.”

We will keep you updated. 

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