IBM, Local Motors debut Olli, the first Watson-powered self-driving vehicle

Olli hits the road in the Washington, D.C. area and later this year in Miami-Dade County and Las Vegas.

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Local Motors CEO and co-founder John B. Rogers, Jr. with "Olli" & IBM, June 15, 2016.

Rich Riggins/Feature Photo Service for IBM

IBM, along with the Arizona-based manufacturer Local Motors, debuted the first-ever driverless vehicle to use the Watson cognitive computing platform. Dubbed "Olli," the electric vehicle was unveiled at Local Motors' new facility in National Harbor, Maryland, just outside of Washington, D.C.

Olli, which can carry up to 12 passengers, taps into four Watson APIs (Speech to Text, Natural Language Classifier, Entity Extraction and Text to Speech) to interact with its riders. It can answer questions like "Can I bring my children on board?" and respond to basic operational commands like, "Take me to the closest Mexican restaurant." Olli can also give vehicle diagnostics, answering questions like, "Why are you stopping?"

Olli learns from data produced by more than 30 sensors embedded throughout the vehicle, which will added and adjusted to meet passenger needs and local preferences.

While Olli is the first self-driving vehicle to use IBM Watson Internet of Things (IoT), this isn't Watson's first foray into the automotive industry. IBM launched its IoT for Automotive unit in September of last year, and in March, IBM and Honda announced a deal for Watson technology and analytics to be used in the automaker's Formula One (F1) cars and pits.

IBM demonstrated its commitment to IoT in March of last year, when it announced it was spending $3B over four years to establish a separate IoT business unit, whch later became the Watson IoT business unit.

IBM says that starting Thursday, Olli will be used on public roads locally in Washington, D.C. and will be used in Miami-Dade County and Las Vegas later this year. Miami-Dade County is exploring a pilot program that would deploy several autonomous vehicles to shuttle people around Miami.

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