Local Motor’s Self-Driving Vehicle Taps the Power of IBM Watson

There’s been a lot of talk around self-driving cars and Local Motors, a leading vehicle technology integrator and creator of the world’s first 3D-printed cars, introduced the first self-driving vehicle to integrate the advanced cognitive computing capabilities of IBM Watson. Local Motors is a technology company that designs, builds and sells vehicles. The Local Motors platform is a combination of a global co-creation with local micro-manufacturing to bring hardware innovations quickly to market. Local Motors in National Harbor, Maryland is a public place where co-creation is the focus for advancement of vehicle technologies.

What can you see if you visit the Maryland facility? On display are 3D-printed cars and a large-scale 3D printer. There visitors can have an interactive co-creative experience that showcases what the future of 3D printing, sustainability, autonomous technology will be. Visitors can get involved with Local Motors engineers and the company’s co-creation community.

The automobile has a name and it’s called “Olli.” At its debut it was carrying the CEO of Local Motors and co-founder John B. Rogers, Jr. and vehicle designer Edgar Sarmiento. The vehicle took them from the Local Motors co-creation community into the new facility. While there are already self-driving action in Washington, DC, soon there will be vehicles on the road in Miami-Dade County and Las Vegas. The cars can carry up to 12 people. More details can be seen in this video:

Source: IBM Watson

What’s the Big Innovation? The electric vehicle is equipped with some of the world’s most advanced vehicle technology, including IBM Watson Internet of Things (IoT) for Automotive. Passengers can interact conversationally with Olli and ask about:

  • Destinations, for example, “Olli, can you take me downtown?”
  • Specific vehicle functions  like: “How does this feature work?”
  • Time related questions like, “Are we there yet?”

In addition, Olli can make recommendations on local restaurants or historical sites. Olli is essentially designed to deliver interesting, entertaining, intuitive and interactive experiences for riders. How is IBM Watson is being used to improve the passenger experience? It is enabling the natural interaction with the vehicle via the cloud-based cognitive computing capability of IBM Watson IoT to analyze and learn from high volumes of transportation data produced by more than 30 sensors embedded throughout the vehicle. As the vehicle gets used, Local Motors plans to install more sensors and adjust them continuously as passenger needs and local preferences are identified.

The platform leverages four Watson developer APIs:

  • Speech to Text
  • Natural Language Classifier
  • Entity Extraction and
  • Text to Speech.

Harriet Green, General Manager, IBM Watson Internet of Things, Commerce & Education commented that, “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. IBM is excited to work with Local Motors to infuse IBM Watson IoT cognitive computing capabilities into Olli, exploring the art of what’s possible in a world of self-driving vehicles and providing a unique, personalized experience for every passenger while helping to revolutionize the future of transportation for years to come.”

Having worked in the automotive industry in Detroit, it’s exciting to see new develops like this. It’s also exciting to see the application of cognitive computing in a real world situation. Using it for something like empowering self-driving vehicle is probably the best way to advance not only the self-driving cars but also the ability to deploy cognitive computing in a real world application. This looks to be the start of something very interesting that other brands in this space should be taking note of. Competition in the automotive is rapidly changing, from the provision of Cars-As-A-Service, with GM investing $500M in Lyft to cars that drive themselves. The Future is here.

@DrNatalie Petouhoff, VP and Principal Analyst, Constellation Research

Covering customer-facing applications that create amazing customer experiences.


General Motors is Investing $500M in Lyft – Just The Beginning of the Sign Of Changes in 2016

The Digital Disruption Is Here. The digital disruption is showing up in a very traditional industry, the auto industry. How? General Motors, with the $500 million investment in Lyft, is creating a wider-ranging strategic partnership that will include a rental program for drivers of the car-sharing service and the creation of an on-demand autonomous car network. Lyft and GM began their talks about three months ago at the Los Angeles Auto Show according to John Zimmer, Lyft president and co-founder. The move is part of a larger effort to increase the company’s heft via a number of alliances, such as one with Didi, Ola Cabs and GrabTaxi, in what amounts to a global anti-Uber effort.

Why GM And the Lyft Partnership?  Lyft added GM to its arsenal because according to Zimmer, “GM is the largest automaker in the U.S. We both see the future of transportation through a network versus ownership, and this is a step in that direction.” What’s most interesting is to note that GM is looking to the shift away from its main business until now — the sale of cars — to a more service-oriented one.

How Much Has Been Invested in Lyft?  The investment is part of a larger funding round of $1 billion for Lyft, including a previously reported $100 million from Saudi Arabia’s Kingdom Holding Company. Other existing Lyft investors will also participate, including Janus Capital Management, Rakuten, Didi Kuaidi and Alibaba. Post-money, Lyft will now be valued at $5.5 billion, which is still a fraction of the $60 billion-plus valuation of its rival Uber. So far, the startup has raised $2 billion since its founding in 2013

According to GM president Dan Ammann, Even for GM, $500 million is a lot of money, but investing in different business models [is] going to be an important part of our future. The car industry is going to change more in the next five years than in the past 50, noting it was eventually moving away from ownership and toward a more software and service business.”

But now, Lyft has something Uber does not yet have — the significant backing of a major U.S. automaker. In May, Lyft did garner an investment from Bill Ford, executive chairman of the U.S. automaker, but it came from a personal venture fund.

What About Self-Driving Cars? The partnership also marks Lyft’s boldest declaration yet that it intends to operate with self-driving cars in the future. Uber is already plowing significant resources into its own autonomous driving research, but it looks like Lyft will outsource this technology to GM. Google, the leader in autonomous driving tech, has also held talks with multiple carmakers about partnerships, including, reportedly, a big one with Ford.

For GM, the investment puts it squarely at a major crossroads. The Detroit behemoth has already made a recent push toward ride-sharing and self-driving cars, but it has moved slower than German rivals Audi and Daimler. In October, GM said autonomous fleets of its electric Chevy Volts would be on the road in 2017.

Presumably, that will be part of the “Autonomous On-Demand Network” that GM and Lyft said they planned to create, noting they “will work to help make this integrated network of on-demand autonomous vehicles part of people’s daily lives.”

What Does This Mean for You? What that means is unclear as yet, with few details about when and where and how. More concretely and immediately, GM and Lyft said they will also offer “rental hubs,” allowing Lyft drivers to rent cars on a short-term basis. While neither Lyft nor GM would confirm whether the deal was exclusive, Amman noted that the partnership would require a “deep level of cooperation and integration.” Neither he nor Lyft president and co-founder John Zimmer would comment as to whether this was a prelude to an acquisition.

On the other hand, what it does mean is that a business that has traditionally been in the business of selling cars is now transitioning into a service business. Which is a true indicator of the power service-oriented economy. How is your business shifting? Is it standing still, doing the same things it’s always done or is it looking into the future at a new version of itself? Perhaps it’s time for some new years resolutions?

@DrNatalie, VP and Principal Analyst, Constellation Research

Covering Marketing, Sales and Service in a Digitally Disrupted Business World