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Launched in 2014 by journalist Sean Baker, Med City Beat is an independent news source covering government, business and culture in Rochester, Minnesota.

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IBM involved in effort to bring autonomous shuttles to downtown Rochester

IBM involved in effort to bring autonomous shuttles to downtown Rochester

The use of autonomous vehicles could play a pivotal role as Rochester looks to modernize its transit system.

As part of Destination Medical Center efforts, engineers from IBM are now partnering with Phoenix-based Local Motors on an autonomous vehicle pilot project for Rochester. 

The concept will be presented Thursday to the DMC Corporation Board. Several transportation alternatives are being considered as part of the city's ongoing Integrated Transit Studies.

Olli, as its called, is a a self-driving electric shuttle manufactured by Local Motors. Operating on a fixed route, Olli can transport 12 people at a time. The vehicles are integrated with IBM's Watson cognitive computing technology, meaning passengers can converse with Olli for things like transit updates and travel recommendations. 

The long-term vision is to use the autonomous passenger buses to transport people between different hubs downtown. According to a report from DMC, the two companies are now working with city staff to identify a potential route where they can pilot the idea.

"Olli focuses on transportation for the last mile," said Matthew Paschal, an electrical engineer at IBM in Rochester. "Downtown Rochester and the DMC districts are the ideal application for Olli."

Paschal is part of a team of IBMers across the country working with Local Motors and the Consumer Technology Association on what they are calling #AccessibleOlli, a project described as a "crowdsourced effort to create the world’s most accessible mode of transport for those with disabilities or impaired mobility."

"With #AccessibleOlli, Rochester could be a model for autonomous vehicle transportation," said Paschal.

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Cover photo courtesy Local Motors

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