If a new driverless shuttle bus makes riders nervous, IBM’s Watson system is on board to make feel passengers feel less alone. And the bus’ cute name – Olli – might help, too.

TechRepublic reports that Maryland’s Local Motors is partnering with IBM on its autonomous shuttle bus named Olli. IBM is contributing its Watson Internet of Things (IoT) for Automotive cognitive computing system. This comes as the global market for self-driving cars is expected to grow exponentially over the next few years.

The launch of Olli, a miniature shuttle bus that can carry up to a dozen passengers, marks the first instance where a vehicle has incorporated IBM Watson IoT.

Watson isn’t on board Olli to pilot the vehicle but rather to “improve the passenger experience and allow natural interaction with the vehicle.” This includes taking directions from passengers, as well as answering questions about Olli’s functionality and even for dining recommendations.

“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,” said Local Motors CEO John B. Rogers. “We are now ready to accelerate the adoption of this technology and apply it to nearly every vehicle in our current portfolio and those in the very near future.”

Olli currently cruising the nation’s capital

The IBM system on board Olli uses four specific Watson application program interfaces: Speech to Text, Text to Speech, Entity Extraction and Natural Language Classifier. Thanks to Watson, the autonomous bus will be able to analyze data collected by more than 30 embedded sensors.

Olli is currently driving on public roads in Washington, DC, with more autonomous shuttles appearing later in 2016 on roads in Miami and Las Vegas.

In a collaboration last year, IBM and Local Motors teamed up with Intel to develope a connected rally car project.

Miami-Dade County is exploring a potential pilot program where a fleet of self-driving vehicles to transport people around the area. The project is a part of a larger initiative to make Miami more sustainable and livable said Mayor Carlos Gimenez.

“We must do more to improve transit and mobility in our community and the deployment of autonomous vehicles is a big step in the right direction,” added Gimenez.

Donal Power

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