The future of mobility joins us in the figure of Olli

The future of mobility is 100% clean, 100% safe and 100% autonomous
(Maarten Steinbuch, Professor University of Eindhoven, The Netherlands SingularityU)

On the 16th of June 2016, the future of mobility, according to Local Motors (yes, pun intended …) was presented to the world in the guise of Olli. Olli is not just an average shuttle bus. Just like its European sisters – the Wepods – that drive around the university campus of Wageningen, the Ollis are 100% electric and autonomous. The special feature, however, is that to Olli is controlled by an artificial brain (cognitive computing capabillities) of IBM Watson. IBM Watson can speak in plain english, and he also responds in a natural and human way.

Watson processes the requests that travelers make using their smartphone in real time. He defines the shortest route to cater everyone as quickly as possible on their mobility needs, with most accurate control of the travel time. Door-to-door.

The user experience is undoubtedly the most distinctive. Watson is accessible through different channels (on the street via smartphone, or just by voice control in the van), he can recognises you in person know, is always polite and never moody. On top of that, Olli learns trough “Conversational interaction”. As a passenger you can have a chat with Olli about technology or simply about where you want to go today. Passengers can change their destination during the ride (put me down at the station square instead …) and specify where and when they want to be picked up again. The more interaction, the more accurate Ollis service grows.

Local Motors

Few people know that Local Motors is a good example of what co-creation can do. The linear value chain that is so dominant to the automotive industry can be quite disrupted by Local Motors. Local Motors is a technology company that brings people together worldwide around design, production and sale of the vehicles of the future. As a technology platform, it combines the force of global co-creation with local micro manufacturing.

The Olli is produced in a so-called BAAM (Big Area Additive Manufacturing). And despite what the name suggests; the computer-controlled production facility would fit in just twice in my small backyard.

The goal of Local Motors is to accelerate the evolution towards new mobility technologies through this new platform model. Local Motors came out with the first car (named Strati) on the market that consists entirely of components made with a 3D printer. Olli is also the result of “Additive Manufacturing”.

New technology, optimism and scepticism

Optimism equals hope. Carsharing, MAAS (Mobility as a Service) and autonomous driving are stepping stones towards alternative energy because of the benefit of scale, optimum utilization of road capacity (less congestion), potentially fewer fatalities, fewer vehicles and less waste of energy and materials. The idea that life can go on while you move (while working, debating or relaxing) is also a very attractive (and sustainable) thought.

Only when surrounded by environmentalists, I ironically still experience the skepticism and suspicion towards new technologies. A colleague of mine was recently almost carried out crucified during a left progressive congress, when naming the potential benefits of autonomous vehicles. Sharing models and new technology would only serve big capital (the sharing economy is a euphemistic guise of platform capitalism) only promoting over-consumption.

Of course there is a potential downside. When the price per kilometer would fall dramatically, the door is open for self-driving meeting rooms, terraces ma’s-tu-vu on wheels, moving hotel rooms and television evenings, floating along Flanders fields …

Even though it is with legitimate concerns (referred to aggressive players as Uber), observations show that new business models on automotive offer space for conceptual diversity and newcomers of all sorts (think of Lyft, Drive Now, Lift Hero (Uber for the elderly), and smaller Belgian initiatives like Bolides and Tapazz.

My last train before summer holiday (return ticket Mortsel-Oude-God-Brussels) costs about 14.00 Euro. Because of strikes and cancelled, I wasted half a day of valuable time for a meeting of just one single hour. For the same number of kilometres, a colleague who lives and works in Paris would pay only 6 Euro at Uber Pool. Door to door.

My question to the opponents and sceptics: how and why stand on the brake? Do new waves of innovation not offer chances to seize power rather than the effort it takes to swim frantically against it?


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