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Artificial Intelligence Driving the Future of Transportation, But Miles of Red Tape Holding It Back

06-08-2019
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NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. - Artificial intelligence is no longer the future. It's right around the corner, and nowhere is that more evident than in self-driving cars or even self-driving buses.

Olli is a 3D printed electric bus that can carry about a dozen people some 120 miles. 

"The future is now," said David Woessner, an executive vice president at Local Motors, the company behind Olli. 

Olli's 360-degree camera doesn't have a blind spot and this robo-bus has even more ways of seeing with radar and lidar systems. 

Right now, state regulations don't allow Olli to operate without a safety steward in case of emergencies, but Olli is fully autonomous. 

During a demonstration ride, Olli demonstrated how a computer can be more cautious than even the most careful human driver. Olli detected a man crossing the street and slowed down. Its computer is even more cautious than even the most careful human driver. The self-driving bus also stopped for a woman who was darting across the street. 

According to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, out of 38,000 traffic fatalities last year – 94% were caused by human error.

The bus is free from making human choices, like drinking and driving. Woessner said Olli's "not getting drunk, not getting distracted and driving, not texting, not watching videos, not watching the news, and not talking to the other passengers in the vehicle." 

"We know that the machine will make mistakes also. Typically not because the machine is drunk or even because it's driving too fast, it'll be for other kinds of reasons," said Richard Danzig a national security consultant and former US Secretary of the Navy. 

After leading a panel at an artificial intelligence colloquium this year, Danzig told CBN News that "we tend to think ideally about the human and skeptically about the machine and we ought to think skeptically about both."

Danzig says that autonomous transport is already safer than human drivers, comparing self-driving vehicles to commercial airliners. 

"Piloting large passenger jets," he said, "has become highly automated in important parts of the experience, and we have enough data to know that the automation has by and large increased safety, not decreased it."

Woessner explained that with each move Olli makes, it's learning. 

"That's why we're putting hours and minutes and miles on this system," he said. 

The folks at Local Motors said passengers are more comfortable with no one behind the wheel. 

"In the early days even elevators had an attendant on it," said Nick Cole, a senior vice president at Local Motors. 

Cole said he's not worried about a potential movie plotline. When asked about the idea of Olli turning on its passengers and allowing itself to crash into a car, he said, "We haven't seen that."

"It's slow speed," he said of the bus. "It's in cities. It's on private routes, campuses, so we definitely, we're ready for that market."

Autonomous vehicles are already on the road, but there's still a lot of red tape to get through before you see buses like Olli on every city street.

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