After obtaining a $15 million investment in 2020, Local Motors is continuing to make progress with its 3D printed, autonomous shuttle, Olli 2.0. The firm has announced that it is partnering with a Berlin-based mobility company called door2door to create ride-pooling software for the vehicle in an effort to bring Olli to Europe.
Currently, the European Union is at what Local Motors considers an “inflection point” with regards to autonomous vehicles (AVs). In particular, German lawmakers established the world’s first legal framework for autonomous driving that will enable some AVs on public roads starting in 2022. Though the bill still needs to pass in the upper house of German parliament, it has passed its lower house.
If it makes it through successfully, vehicles with Level 4 autonomy, in which a computer is responsible for all driving in specific conditions and environments, will be allowed German roads. This would be limited to robo-taxis and business-related vehicles, such as shuttles designed for delivery, moving employees around, and for trips between medical centers and retirement homes.
Olli 2.0 could be just the vehicle in mind for such vehicles. With a largely 3D printed chassis, made using the Big Area Additive Manufacturing system from Cincinnati Incorporated, Olli is built with 100 percent recycled materials, according to Local Motors. 80 percent of that material is 3D printed. The shuttle is driven by Robotic Research’s AutoDrive, an “autonomy kit” that “allows the vehicle to think, perceive and navigate in diverse, mixed-traffic environments.”
“The partnership with door2door is an important step for Local Motors as we expand operations in Europe. door2door’s leading software will integrate well with Olli 2.0, creating a strong solution to scale as legislators recognize the viable applications of AVs,” said Carlo Iacovini, Local Motors EMEA General Manager.
door2door designs mobility analytics software that can determine the necessary parameters for running autonomous shuttles, additionally making it possible for transit planners to leverage the tool for simulations and running supply and demand analysis. The firm’s on-demand fleet management software will also be used on Olli’s onboard HMI and passengers’ phones so that riders can call Olli to their site and select their desired drop-off point in the AV’s region. door2door’s pooling capabilities will further make it possible to perform ridesharing.
The German company already has 60 deployments around Europe, where its tools are used to increase transit ridership and find areas in cities, villages, and rural communities where transit might be used. Local Motors, too, has limited deployment in the EU, with the company saying that Olli vehicles have provided “thousands of rides” in Hambach, Germany and Ghent, Belgium.
“The key to success for autonomous vehicles is to combine hardware with software and thereby use the power that lies within pooling and routing. Based on our long term experience with on-demand mobility services, we will enable our customers to manage and optimize the operations of an autonomous vehicle fleet while providing an end-to-end, multi-modal seamless experience for their riders,” said André Gerhardy, door2door Chief Commercial Officer.
The world is still in the early stages of AVs and confronting the possibility that robots may soon be driving them around. Hesitation about the topic is completely warranted, given the tragedies that have occurred with AVs. In 2019, a self-driving Uber killed a pedestrian that it did not classify as such, due to the fact that she was not near a crosswalk. Two passengers in a Tesla died in April 2021 while it was in autonomous mode. Another died in a Tesla while asleep at the wheel a month later.
These were all thought to be human or programming errors, but the situation becomes more terrifying when one considers intentional murder with artificial intelligence (AI). It was reported in June that an autonomous drone may have killed an individual in Libya driven entirely by AI, without any human input. Given the combination of possible errors on the part of users and software along with the potential for malicious intent, AI is not a topic that is easy to digest when it comes to vehicles.
Fortunately for Local Motors, Olli 2.0 is of a class of vehicles that is much safer than your average sedan, autonomous or otherwise. It maxes out at just 25 mph (40 km/h) and is currently designed for shuttling passengers around campuses and small city locales, such as the International Training Centre of the International Labour Organization in Italy and the National Harbor in Maryland.
In other words, Olli is still designed for low-speed, safe shuttling. It will face some competition in Germany, however. Argo AI is testing AVs at the LabCampus at Munich Airport, while Volkswagen is currently working on the VW ID.Buzz electric vans. MobileEye, an Intel subsidiary, is also conducting tests for its AVs in the country.
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