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First Self-Driving, 3D-Printed Smart Bus Hits the Streets of Washington, DC

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Public transportation users in Washington, DC, can now hitch a ride on a self-driving, 3D-printed bus.

Olli, created by Arizona-based Local Motors, officially hit the streets of the nation's capital Thursday. Using an app similar to Uber or Lyft, ride-seekers can order the bus to pick them up and drop them off at their destinations of choice.

Photo credit: Local Motors

And it gets better. Olli is electric-powered and 3D-printed, reducing the vehicles footprint before and after it hits the road, Local Motors wrote in a release. The bus can even talk to riders.

“Olli offers a smart, safe and sustainable transportation solution that is long overdue," John B. Rogers Jr., Local Motors CEO and co-founder, said.

Local Motors teamed up with IBM Watson Internet of Things, making Olli the first vehicle to have the capability to analyze and learn from transportation data. The self-driving bus is equipped with 30 sensors that collect the data, allowing it to make quick decisions, according to Local Motors. Sensors will be added and adjusted to fit passengers' needs and local preferences.

“Olli with Watson acts as our entry into the world of self-driving vehicles, something we've been quietly working on with our co-creative community for the past year," Rogers said.

Using IBM Watson technology, the bus will be able to answer questions about how it works, where it is going and how it makes decisions, Local Motors said. Passengers will also be able to ask Olli about destinations, such as "Olli, can you take me downtown?"

Local Motors claims Olli can even answer questions about recommendations of local destinations and historical sites.

"Cognitive computing provides incredible opportunities to create unparalleled, customized experiences for customers, taking advantage of the massive amounts of streaming data from all devices connected to the Internet of Things, including an automobile's myriad sensors and systems," Harriet Green, general manager of commerce and education for IBM Watson Internet of Things, said.

Olli has a unique assembly process. Parts of the self-driving bus are created at local 3D printing shops, Inhabitat reported. The parts will be assembled at Local Motors sites.

“We hope to be able to print this vehicle in about 10 hours and assemble it in another hour," Rogers said.

Local Motor's long-term plan is to establish hundreds of micro-factories across the globe, which will produce Ollies designed for local needs. The company has micro-factorieswhich uses less space, energy and materials—in Berlin, Germany; Chandler, Arizona; Knoxville, Tennessee; and a new one in National Harbor, Maryland.

Despite being just officially introduced, Local Motors is working with dozens of cities in at least 50 countries who are interested in the technology, according to Inhabitat.

The original Olli will stay at Local Motors' Maryland facility for the summer. Interested members of the public can interact with the vehicle at select times throughout the season.

Additional Ollies will be built at the company's headquarters near Phoenix.

Watch Local Motors' video about Olli:

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The rallying cry to build it again and to build it better than before is inspiring after a natural disaster, but it may not be the best course of action, according to new research published in the journal Science.

"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.

The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.

"We propose a reconceptualization of retreat as a suite of adaptation options that are both strategic and managed," the paper states. "Strategy integrates retreat into long-term development goals and identifies why retreat should occur and, in doing so, influences where and when."

The billions of dollars spent to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to create dunes to protect from future storms after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 may be a waste if sea level rise inundates the entire coastline.

"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."

Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.

Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.

That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.

Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.

If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.

"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."

To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.


"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."