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'A Little Bit Like Uber But Without The Driver': Autonomous Bus Headed For Las Vegas

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Local Motors

Olli, the autonomous bus made by Local Motor, uses IBM Watson technology, which is best known for competing on "Jeopardy!"

Local Motors is an automotive micro-factory that created the world’s first 3-D printed cars. And recently, it debuted a self-driving bus.

That vehicle is called Olli. It seats 12, and is the first vehicle to employ Watson IBM technology, which drives and interacts with passengers.

Olli is being tested in Washington D.C. this summer, and should reach Miami and Las Vegas later this year. 

Justin Fishkin is the chief strategy officer for Local Motors. He told KNPR's State of Nevada that Olli will be cognitive. 

“You’ll call it up on an app tell it where you want to go, a little bit like Uber but without the driver, it will help you get there faster or more comfortably or take a better route,” he said.

The idea is to start service off public roads. The company would like to start at a closed environment like UNLV at first and then move onto regular roads. Besides testing the actual vehicle, the company will be testing the app to make sure it is working properly. 

Fishkin said the self-driving car controlled by an app is a combination of the old and the new. 

“I think you’re seeing a convergence of traditional Detroit and Silicon Valley,” he said.

The Ollie is not the only self-driving car being tested in Nevada. The state is actually a leader in the technology with six companies currently testing autonomous vehicles in Nevada, including Google, Daimler Trucks, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen-Audi, Delphi Automotive and Hyundai-Kia Motors.

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Jude Hurin is an administrator for Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles. He said the companies had to submit information on the kind of technology the cars are using and that technology's limitations. They also had to provide information about the test driver.

One of the biggest questions surrounding self-driving car technology is the threat of hacking. Hurin said all the companies working in Nevada have several layers of security measures.

 “I’m actually comforted in the fact that it would be very difficult to achieve that,” he said. 

Nevada is so ahead of the curve when it comes to this technology that it actually has a division dedicated to it. Dan Langford is the director of the Nevada Center for Advanced Mobility. 

Langford said the center is working to coordinate with businesses and government entities like the DMV to make sure everyone understands how the industry is developing.

The center is also working with local governments to solve transportation problems and finally it is developing policies and regulations that are focused on safety but aren't so restrictive that the industry is handcuffed.

Langford said one area of focus for a future with self-driving cars is smart infrastructure. 

“There is this opportunity for infrastructure to become intelligent,” he said.

For example, a self-driving car could know when a traffic light is about to change or when an emergency vehicle is coming, allowing the car to get out of the way faster.

While many drivers might be loathe to give up the autonomy of driving their car, Fishkin doesn't believe the consumer market will actually be pushing the industry forward. 

“I think you’ll see it in closed environments first and then you’ll see it for consumer adoption,” he said.

And Fishkin said self-driving cars will be much safer and reduce deaths from car accidents dramatically. 

Guests

Justin Fishkin, chief strategy officer, Local Motors; Dan Langford, director, Nevada Center for Advanced Mobility; Jude Hurin, administrator, Nevada DMV