#AccessibleOlli drives us forward at CES

Did you know that 15 percent of us live with disabilities? That jumps to 25 percent for people 50+. And by the time we’re 65, half of us will have one or more impairments.

That’s why #AccessibleOlli was such a draw at this year’s CES with it’s very worthy mission: autonomous for all of us.

What is Olli

If you aren’t familiar with Olli, it’s an all-electric, partially 3D-printed, self-driving vehicle with a cognitive rider experience. Holding up to 10 people, this autonomous shuttle is the result of a co-creation challenge and rapid prototyping. Taking it a step further with a collaboration between Local Motors, IBM and CTA foundation and 17 other partners, #AccessibleOlli was created. This #AccessibleOlli is 90 percent 3D-printed, and uses technology to provide solutions for those with vision and hearing loss, cognitive disorders and mobile constraints.

#AccessibleOlli showed up at this year's CES to demonstration how IoT technology can create better mobility options for people with disabilities.
#AccessibleOlli on the Las Vegas Convention Center floor at this year’s CES.

An immersive experience

The always-packed CES booth gave visitors an immersive #AccessibleOlli experience to help them, as someone said, “put on their empathy hat.” Because, as Eric Jenney, program director of corporate strategy, SPEED program for IBM, explained, “One of the things we learned early on is that transportation can be a very segregating experience for people with disabilities.”

Attendees met and talked with Erich Manser, part of the IBM Research team. Erich is legally blind, and serves as one of the four personas that #AccessibleOlli can help. He’s also a heavy user of public transportation. And under normal circumstances, finding an unoccupied bus seat can be a problem. But part of the beauty of #AccessibleOlli is its ability to personalize the experience for each user.

Erich Manser, part of the IBM Research team, helped immerse visitors in the #AccessibleOlli project.
IBMer Erich Manser set the immersive stage for visitors to the #AccessibleOlli booth.

Thanks to an RFID card, similar to a bus pass or metro card, that a user like Erich would carry, riders are “known” in advance to the vehicle. Then, as Erich explained, “Our ability to use things like text to speech, really helps to create audible experiences.”

Designed by people with impairments, for people with impairments

As all well-designed product do, #AccessibleOlli started with research. Thousands of people with disabilities provided input. Sheila Zinck, IBM accessibility programs director, talked to retirement communities to find out how willing its residents would be to try autonomous transportation.

Concerned that older adults would be resistant to self-driving technology, Shelia was surprised to discover just how willing they were to be early adopters. “You can be in the most beautiful facility in the world, but if you can’t have the agency to go out and go shopping, or go to your own doctor’s appointments or go out to dinner, your life just contracts.”

The IBM role

So why is IBM involved in this project? Because the Internet of Things (IoT) offers promising ways to enable people with disabilities through new technology. Olli uses Watson APIs and a Watson-powered assistant, along with IBM IoT for Automotive. And with IoT, you can acquire data through sensors to understand people’s needs. Then you can combine it with additional information through the cloud to create new solutions for extending mobility.

#AccessibleOlli was an amazing conversation stater for creating a more autonomous and accessible world.#

Disability personas

At this year’s CES, the #AccessibleOlli display focused on four disabilities, and each was summarized through a persona:

  • Erich, who we met earlier, has degenerative vision loss as he is nearly blind.
  • Brent has hearing loss. Partner KinTrans provides a solution to understand and communicate via sign language, which was demonstrated in the booth. Eventually, Watson will help with sign language recognition.
  • Katherine is confined to a wheelchair. For her, Olli has a smart retractable wheelchair ramp and securement system.
  • Grace suffers from early dementia and has a cognitive disorder.  Technologies will help recognize her and give her gentle reminders to help keep her on track.

What’s next for #AccessibleOlli?

After CES, the journey continues, literally.  #AccessibleOlli will be moved to National Harbor, MD, near Washington DC, where it will continue to be a lab, integrating new technologies through ongoing labs and workshops. Along with our partners and contributors, we’ll all continue to build out solutions.

Thank you, #AccessibleOlli, for creating a true “autonomous for all of us” experience. And in the words of our special booth attendee, the musical legend Stevie Wonder, “We all have ability. The difference is in how we use it.”

Musical legend Stevie Wonder, made a surprise stop at the #AccessibleOlli booth at CES 2018.I
IBMer Eric Jenney and Local motors EVP, Matthew Rivett, posed with musical legend Stevie Wonder,
who made a surprise visit to the #AccessibleOlli booth at CES 2018. 

Musical legend Stevie Wonder made a surprise stop at the #AccessibleOlli booth at CES 2018.
Stevie Wonder and Lighthouse for the Blind CEO, Michael May, take a seat at #AccessibleOlli during 



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MIT & Watson: hacking assistive technology for #AccessibleOlli

It’s a frigid Saturday morning and I’m on my way to attend the Assistive Technology Hackathon at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. I knew that one of the hack challenges presented by IBM Research and IBM technology partner Local Motors was designed to address difficulties that the blind and visually impaired face on urban transportation, so I took off my glasses just before hopping onto the Red Line of Boston’s subway system. It was immediately apparent that this challenge would address far more than finding a seat as a matter of convenience.

285 million reasons why assistive technology is important

For the more than 285 million global citizens with visual impairment, enhanced public transportation provides a huge step forward for both personal and economic independence. As the hackathon project team learned, having the capability to find an empty seat on a bus, or train is not only an issue of personal safety, but also empowers individuals with physical limitations to get to work, shop for food, and conduct day to day life tasks.

#AccessibleOlli at MIT : scouting for new accessibility apps

Upon arriving at MIT’s BeaverWorks Lab, I checked in with a team of student coders, mechanical engineers, an occupational therapist, and the team clients – Erich Manser from IBM Research and Gina O’Connell from Local Motors.

Gina was attending with IBM to scout out prospective future applications for Olli, billed as the world’s first cognitive self-driving shuttle. The students had been busy building an Android-based app that used Bluetooth and overhead cameras that could be mounted in a city bus, or in a smaller specially equipped Olli shuttle, to identify available seats and provide verbal navigation to the user based on their geospatial coordinates when coming on board. A key element of the app was empathic design, with the entirety of the device screen acting as one big function key; this single point of app navigation enabled the identification of available seats with a just one touch.

The solution built by the students could also be extended.to many forms of public and private transportation systems as well as other fixed seat environments like MITs lecture halls.

Flawless functionality: the app was up to the task

The application functioned flawlessly in the lab, but is public transport ready to invest widely in assistive solutions like the seat-finder app?  As it turns out – it seems the answer is yes. Gina shared that her company is looking at accessibility from four different perspectives – visual, audio, cognitive and mobility–in an effort to address the needs of an estimated 15 percent of the world’s population who experience some form of disability.

By incorporating IBM Watson APIs like text-to-speech and image recognition, additional assistive on board services for self-driving Olli could include machine learning for seat selection and familiar destinations by rider, sign language recognition, and schedule arrival/departure notifications delivered to users’ personal mobile devices.

A diagram of Olli, the autonomous cognitive vehicle from Local Motors powered by Watson IoT

Figure 1: Olli

Crowd-sourcing innovative ideas

Throughout 2017, Local Motors will be teaming with IBM, the Consumer Technology Association, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and a number of other associations and municipalities to explore and enhance transportation for the aged population and those with physical or cognitive limitations. The extended group will also be working with student teams internationally, like those at MIT, crafting and submitting accessible technologies that bridge generation gaps.   Currently, there is a Local Motors Olli vehicle resident in the IBM Watson IoT global headquarters in Munich, Germany, where researchers from around the world can contribute to its learning and association with assistive technology.

The potential?

New collaboration between technology partners and large associations serving the needs of aging and disabled individuals represents a unique opportunity to better meet the needs of the entire community – as well as a multi-billion dollar opportunity. By leveraging the power of IoT and cognitive computing, in effect, we are putting new knowledge at the fingertips of the entire ecosystem – creating a limitless set of collaborative ideas which could potentially improve the experiences for aging and disabled individuals, while encouraging different players to enter the market.

Hats off to the MIT student hack team

Hats off to student hack team at MIT and their seat finding app : Sharon Hershenson, Dhruvika Sahni, Ayush Sharma, Yao Tong, Xin Wen and Fangzhou Xia. Watch for more news on student hacks and workshops supported by IBM Research, IBM Watson IoT and Local Motors.

Want to get involved? Follow: #AccessibleOlli

Please participate and share your ideas with the hashtag #AccessbleOlli. For more information, please visit ibm.com/able/

Checkout the Accessible Olli video.

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