The future is coming—at 11 miles per hour

Autonomous shuttle companies want to fill the first-mile, last-mile gaps in public transportation

The future arrives for me in the form of a rectangle on four wheels, about half the size of a conventional school bus, with large windows all around. When the side door opens, an impressively mustachioed safety attendant named Buddy welcomes me aboard. Standing at a small command terminal, Buddy cues up the route and disengages the emergency brake, and we peel out of the parking spot at a cool 11 miles per hour. This is no David Hasselhoff-ian Knight Rider driving experience—then again, KITT was science fiction. I put my sunglasses on and kick back as Olli comes to a gradual stop at a four-way intersection and then navigates a left turn seamlessly.

This is my inaugural ride on the Olli shuttle bus, and my first-ever ride in an autonomous vehicle, seated comfortably on a 3D-printed seat with a belt fastened across my lap, cruising along at a speed attainable by a skilled tricycling kindergartener. With Buddy. And his garage-broom-bristle ’stache.

On a Wednesday afternoon in January, I’m in National Harbor, the Maryland-based sales and demonstration facility operated by Local Motors. The Arizona-based automaker is known for crowdsourcing vehicle design and then creating those vehicles using advanced manufacturing techniques. (It was Local Motors that created the Strati, the first fully 3D-printed car. The Olli shuttle I rode on was designed by Colombian-born Edgar Sarmiento; roughly 80 percent of the thing is 3D-printed.) Chances are you’ve heard of Olli, especially if you live in the Washington, D.C., area. For the last several years, Local Motors has teased a wider rollout of its electric autonomous shuttle bus in the D.C. area.

27. April 2019

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