Self-driving shuttle Olli set to hit Phoenix streets

Photo courtesy of Local Motors

Tempe-based Local Motors, a tech company that focuses on 3-D-printed mobility solutions, is set to bring the Phoenix area its own self-driving entity: Olli, an electric, self-driving shuttle.

You may have seen self-driving vehicles in action, like the aforementioned Chrysler vans with the top hat-looking sensors spinning around on top. Or maybe you remember the autonomous Volvo SUV’s Uber tested until last March when a pedestrian accident shuttered the program. But Olli is unlike anything that’s been seen or tested out on Arizona roads. First, the people mover is 3-D printed. Second, its focus is on public transit rather than personal driving.

“It’s all about access. With Olli, people actually get to touch, ride and fully experience an autonomous vehicle, often for the first time,” says founder Jay Rogers. “The goal is less traffic, less pollution, and better transportation experiences overall.”

Able to seat eight and shaped like a sleek lunchbox, Olli is essentially a more sophisticated airport shuttle, except it’s on wheels that are set to take to the streets, and not on a track that loops around Sky Harbor. The shuttle’s drivetrain is electric and runs a whisper quiet motor.

Currently, LMI is working to make the shuttle ergonomically personalized for intended purposes. From closed professional campuses to universities and colleges, to large sports or entertainment complexes, Olli is being touted as a shapeshifting shuttle that can serve large crowds.

“Olli is a fit wherever large groups of people need to move from one place to another,” says Rogers. “It’s a perfect solution for any environment because, at its core, Olli is a mobility platform – designed specifically so that it can be easily customized for every scenario.”

Dreamed up in 2007, Local Motors moved headquarters to Tempe in 2010 where it began tinkering with 3-D printed materials, including diving into developing printed vehicles, like Olli. The self-driving shuttle is part of the company’s Olli Fleet Challenge, an initiative the company launched to find the best use-case scenarios for Olli. The challenge was launched in September and the winner will have Olli’s delivered to them.

Local Motors has been testing out the vehicle here in Arizona as well as the University of Buffalo. It will soon head to Sacramento where it will test operations. The shuttle comes with 40 miles of range on a single charge and tops out at 25 MPH, so it’s mostly meant for short-range and slow-moving needs such as local neighborhood routes and parking lot shuttling.

Obviously safety is a huge issue that all self-driving automakers are facing. Olli comes with a dynamic obstacle avoidance system as well as cognitive response technology to help maneuver around cars, people, objects, etc.

“Our autonomy kit incorporates, independent systems – such as LiDAR and GPS – so if one fails, the other is there as backup…with multiple sensor and direction technologies, we ensure that Olli is always running as it should,” adds Rogers.

Nick Esquer

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