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Driverless shuttles coming to East Valley Institute of Technology in Mesa

Arizona Republic logo Arizona Republic 12/12/2018 Ryan Randazzo
a bus that is parked on the side of a building: Local Motors has developed driverless eight-passenger shuttles that they call "Olli" near Chandler. They are giving some away in a contest, two to EVIT.© Michael Chow/The Republic Local Motors has developed driverless eight-passenger shuttles that they call "Olli" near Chandler. They are giving some away in a contest, two to EVIT.

Students at the East Valley Institute of Technology in Mesa will have two autonomous trolleys shuttling them around campus next year thanks to Arizona manufacturing company Local Motors.

© Provided by Gannett Co., Inc.

Local Motors is giving the self-driving "Olli" shuttles to the technical school as well as two more to California State University, Sacramento, following a contest that sought the best partners to showcase the technology.

Research

The winners who get to use the vehicles for three months were announced Wednesday.

Local Motors CEO Jay Rogers said the EVIT students will be good stewards of the autonomous shuttles, which can transport eight seated passengers at speeds below 25 miles per hour. The shuttles use IBM's "Watson" artificial-intelligence platform.

"EVIT, they are a technology-forward school," Rogers said. "A Millennial and Generation Z audience that believes naturally in (artificial intelligence) and robotics. And they are the Uber generation."

A connection between the company and the school already existed because some EVIT students have used the manufacturing space that Local Motors makes available for inventors and designers, Rogers said.

The vehicles, which are still referred to as pilot models before Local Motors launches a commercial version, are worth about $400,000 each, according to the company.

For now, they use a steward on board to assist the autonomous technology if needed, but the plan is to eventually have no steward on board and to simply monitor the vehicles remotely.

Earlier this year, Local Motors asked organizations in the Phoenix and Sacramento areas to apply to win the Olli shuttles by telling the company how they would put the vehicles to work.

An unusual company

a passenger bus that is parked on the side of a building: Local Motors has developed driverless eight-passenger shuttles that they call "Olli" near Chandler. They are giving some away in a contest, two to EVIT.

Rogers launched his company in 2007 in Massachusetts and moved off Interstate 10 on the Gila River Indian Community near Chandler in 2010. He now has locations in Tempe, Knoxville and National Harbor, Maryland.

The company uses the collective knowledge of engineers around the globe who pool their ideas online to design automobiles and a variety of other products.

Local Motors offers rewards for the designers who win certain competitions.

READ MORE: Waymo self-driving vans harassed on Valley roads

Local Motors unveiled its first Olli in June 2016 at its National Harbor facility after a contest that sought ideas on how to improve transportation in cities. The Olli concept was the winner of that challenge.

Some parts of the Olli vehicles are made with a three-dimensional printer at the Knoxville facility. 

Rogers plans similar "microfactories" around the country that can build vehicles and products on demand.

Local Motors has about 16 Olli shuttles in use around the world, including at the University at Buffalo, Rogers said.

READ MORE: Waymo announces 'Waymo One' ride service in Arizona

The company got about 50 interested parties in the contest in both metro Phoenix and Sacramento, and about 10 that went all the way through the application process before judges settled on the winners, he said.

"This means Phoenix is ready for learning about autonomy," Rogers said. "The entrants, these were real businesses, with real-use cases all around the city."

He said the interested parties ranged geographically from Anthem to Queen Creek and represented a variety of businesses from health-care facilities to retirement communities, courthouses and cemeteries.

Local Motors has developed driverless eight-passenger shuttles that they call "Olli" near Chandler. They are giving some away in a contest, two to EVIT.© Michael Chow/The Republic Local Motors has developed driverless eight-passenger shuttles that they call "Olli" near Chandler. They are giving some away in a contest, two to EVIT.

Tech students could benefit

EVIT officials are excited to see the autonomous technology put to work on their campus, which has more than 2,000 students.

The school plans to use the shuttles primarily for students but also to give visitors tours of the campus, EVIT Assistant Superintendent Steve Waldvogel said.

"One of the things we are excited about is when these vehicles need to be repaired or worked on, potentially that would happen in our facilities or automotive classroom areas," Waldvogel said.

READ MORE: We followed Waymo's driverless vans and this is what we saw

EVIT offers technical training for high-school students and adults.

It has courses in fields such as automotive, cosmetology, health care, aviation, information technology, building trades and more. The EVIT campus is on Main Street in Mesa between Dobson and Alma School roads.

"You can speak to (the vehicles), ask them to play music," Waldvogel said. "You can interact with them."

READ MORE: Valley Metro experiments with driverless cars

U.S. Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Calif., who judged Sacramento entries for Local Motors, said she is excited to see the technology put to use.

“The Olli AV shuttle represents the direction our transportation is going in the near future,” Matsui said in a press release.

“The nature of the landscape and route chosen by Sacramento State ensure that safety is of the utmost importance during this test period. I am eager to see students and faculty alike utilize this technology and make it a part of their daily lives. Exposure to this type of technology is an important first step.”

Local Motors announced another challenge Wednesday for as many as eight Ollis, open to applicants in the Washington, D.C., area.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Driverless shuttles coming to East Valley Institute of Technology in Mesa

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