Meet Olli. Chat with Olli. Take a ride with Olli. Who is this Olli? It’s a self-driving, electric minibus that since mid-June has been cruising the streets of Washington, D.C., picking up and depositing passengers. It’s also the first autonomous vehicle to integrate the cognitive computing capabilities of IBM Watson, according Local Motors Inc., the vehicle’s maker.
Based in Chandler, Ariz., Local Motors is a co-creation community that uses newer technologies such as 3D printing, as well as microfactories (small-batch, locally sourced production sites) to bring down the cost of making cars on a low-volume basis. The company – which made headlines in 2014 when it launched Strati, “the world’s first 3D-printed car” – boldly declares: “We aren’t here to build vehicles. We’re here to reinvent them.”
(Note: Local Motors used LNP Thermocomp carbon-fiber-reinforced ABS from SABIC in the Strati, and SABIC displayed the vehicle on its booth at the NPE show in Orlando in March 2015.)
The plastics-intensive Olli – which is about 30 percent 3D-printed and can carry 12 people – is due to be deployed in Miami and Las Vegas later this year.
It uses 20 percent carbon-fiber-reinforced ABS from Clinton, Tenn.-based custom compounder Techmer ES, a division of Techmer PM LLC. The automaker is using this material in non-structural applications in Olli’s fenders, lower valances, rocker panels and in some interior components such as lower seat covers, according to Greg Haye, general manager of Materials & Process Development for Local Motors in Knoxville, Tenn. It also used CF-reinforced ABS to make the molds for the 3D-printed parts, and it 3D-printed all the jigs used to make the chassis.
“We noticed a gap in the large-part 3D market and it’s need for engineered compounds,” said Tom Drye, managing director of Techmer Engineered Solutions. “Working with some of the leading machine makers and OEMs involved in the 3D field, TES has developed a growing line of 3D materials aimed at raising the performance level for 3D printed parts.
“Additive manufacturing (3D printing) is undergoing a revolution in performance, as evidenced by the structural demands of companies such as Local Motors. Engineering resins such as ABS, PA, PPS, PPSU and others, reinforced with carbon fiber and specialty additives optimized for the 3D market, are now part of TES offerings and used in vehicles like the Olli.”
Olli features an aluminum, skateboard-style chassis, Haye said in a telephone interview. The firm also used 3D printing to create the mold that gives Olli its rounded shape. Local Motors uses Direct Digital Manufacturing, and a BAAM (Big Area Additive Manufacturing) machine from Cincinnati Inc. to make its 3D-printed components.
When interviewed in mid-July, Haye said the company was in the process of building its third Olli at its headquarters near Phoenix. But Local Motors plans to commence production this fall in Knoxville, close to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which has been a close partner to the automaker.
Olli was born out of a challenge that Local Motors held last year in Berlin, Germany, in which it asked its community “to define a vehicle and a system consistent with the needs of intelligent mobility in urban areas,” explained John B. (“Jay”) Rogers, Jr., the company’s CEO and co-founder. (See this video interview with Rogers that I helped Plastics News to produce from an Industrial Designers Society of America conference in Portland, Ore., in 2010.)
The Berlin contest’s winning entry was submitted by Edgar Sarmiento, a Colombian/Italian industrial design student. The Bogota-born Sarmiento, who turned 25 last month, currently is in Turin, Italy, pursuing his Master’s degree in Transportation Design, after earning his Bachelor’s degree in industrial design from the Universidad Nacional de Colombia.
“I’m not an artist,” Sarmiento said in a recent email interview from Europe. “The minimalistic style is related to my style of design. Design is a result of a lot of components, and in this case transportation design is too complex ...”.
Colombian design student Edgar Sarmiento created Olli, winning a competition launched in Berlin last year by Local Motors
Local Motors uses this BAAM (Big Area Additive Manufacturing) machine from Cincinnati Inc. to make its 3D-printed components.
Olli uses large amounts of 20% carbon-fiber-reinforced ABS for a number of its 3D-printed components, including on the non-structural, lower seat covers in the vehicle’s interior.
With more than 30 embedded sensors, Olli leverages the computing power of IBM Watson’s to analyze and learn from volumes of transportation data.
Local Motors recently opened this 22,000-square-foot facility in Maryland to showcase its products and serve as “a public place where co-creation can flourish.”
With more than 30 sensors embedded throughout the vehicle, Olli leverages the computing power of IBM Watson’s Internet of Things to analyze and learn from high volumes of transportation data, allowing it to navigate traffic efficiently.
The platform leverages four Watson developer application programming interfaces (or APIs) – Speech to Text, Natural Language Classifier, Entity Extraction, and Text to Speech – to enable what Local Motors calls “seamless interactions between the vehicle and passengers.” Passengers can converse with Olli while traveling from point A to B, discussing such topics as how the vehicle works, where they are going, and why Olli is making specific driving decisions. Watson empowers Olli to understand and respond to passengers’ questions as they enter the vehicle, and can even provide concierge-like feedback to questions such as, “Where’s a good Chinese restaurant around here?”.
Passengers can summon Olli using an app, prompting Local Motors to state: “As long as you have a smartphone, wherever you are is a bus stop. And wherever you’re going is the next stop.”
Laser-scanning Lidar and optical cameras allow Olli to see in all directions. Self-driving software allows Olli to make decisions faster than a human and keep everyone safe. But still, a human monitors Olli's activity and the safety of riders at all times.
“We’re screening many materials,” Haye said, assessing their suitability for structural vs. finishing applications. He acknowledges that if demand warrants it, Local Motors could to implement a “hybrid manufacturing model,” by which it could use more traditional production processes such as injection molding to make high-volume core components while continuing to customize its vehicles by using 3D printing to produce certain parts.
He says they also would like eventually to be able to switch the chassis from aluminum to 3D-printed polymers, to take out labor costs and allow more components to be combined. “There will be some bigger polymer jumps,” he predicts.
Local Motors this summer also opened a new facility in National Harbor, along the Potomac River in Oxon Hill, Md., “to serve as a public place where co-creation can flourish and vehicle technologies can rapidly advance.” The 22,000-square-foot facility has the company’s 3D-printed cars on display, along with a large-scale 3D printer and an interactive, co-creative experience that showcases what the future of the nation’s capital might look like. The facility also will offer educational programming focused on STEM (science, technology, engineering and manufacturing) topics.
Olli’s designer, Edgar Sarmiento, wants to see Olli become one of the most important vehicles in the transportation design field. He expects to earn his Master’s degree in Turin next April. After graduating, he says, “I would like to work for Local Motors, because the company is making interesting projects.” He’d like to collaborate in the development of “more types of Ollis.”
Move over, Olli, you might be getting some brothers and sisters.
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