Automotive

LM Industries raises $15m from SPARX to develop and deliver the 3D printed Olli 2.0

Digital vehicle manufacturer and parent company of Local Motors, LM Industries, has raised $15 million from an investment fund managed by the Japanese SPARX Group

Local Motors is the developer of Olli, a 3D printed, electric, self-driving shuttle bus, and the additional funding will be used to develop, manufacture and deploy the vehicle’s second iteration ‘Olli 2.0.’ Despite the challenging economic climate, the firm claims to have seen a recent surge in demand, and that the added investment will help get Olli to clients “who are seeking ways to redefine local mobility.”

“When SPARX considers partnering with new businesses, we are committed to finding great companies, like Local Motors, with intentions and abilities to make the world a better place,” said Shuhei Abe, CEO of SPARX Group. “At a time when the world is changing faster than ever, we’re thrilled to be working with a company that can evolve with it.”

“Local Motors has a unique advantage, in that it’s able to quickly deliver impactful products, that can revolutionize the automotive and mobility industry.”

The Olli 3D printed shuttle bus 

Olli was first introduced in 2016 as a self-driving shuttle, capable of transporting up to 12 passengers, and being 3D printed on-demand. Leveraging a Cincinnati Incorporated BAAM printer, and an IBM Watson IoT platform, the automated vehicle could reportedly be constructed in less than ten hours. 

The bus itself featured 360° LiDAR scanners that allowed it to sense its surroundings in all directions, while its powerful electric batteries meant that the vehicle could travel at speeds of up to 40 km/h. Since Olli’s initial launch, it has secured up to $1 billion worth of operational support, and been shipped around the world for use within a variety of industries. 

German rail company Deutsche Bahn for instance, conducted a six-month long pilot programme of Olli in Berlin, in which it was expected to carry over 100 passengers per day around the city. Local Motors later built its first American Olli in Knoxville, USA, and deployed its miniature shuttle at Sacramento State University, where it was trialled in real-world situations

In September 2019, the company launched its new and improved Olli 2.0 model, sporting enhanced cognition capabilities courtesy of MIT start-up Affectiva. The upgraded Olli features route optimization tools and advanced facial recognition software, that reportedly allows it to accurately assess the mood of its passengers. 

In order to successfully roll-out its latest automotive innovation from its micro factory in Knoxville, Tennessee, Local Motors has now sourced additional funding thanks to a group of investors led by the SPARX Group.   

Olli has been shipped around the world over the last four years, and now Local Motors will use its recently raised funding to roll-out Olli 2.0. Photo via Local Motors.
Olli has been shipped around the world over the last four years, and now Local Motors is using its recently raised funding to roll-out Olli 2.0. Photo via Local Motors.

The SPARX Group provides Olli backing 

Since entering the mass manufacturing of Olli 2.0, the firm has seen a resurgence of interest from many city authorities, seeking a safe and reliable transportation alternative. As a result, Local Motors’ latest round of funding is set to be used to cover the rising development, production and shipping costs associated with the latest version of its automated vehicle.

For example, Olli 2.0 was deployed in a real traffic situation for the first time last month at the AZ Maria Middelares hospital in Ghent, Belgium, albeit travelling along a limited 600 meter route. Local Motors has also delivered its first Olli order in America to the Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA) at the AV Test & Learn track at Armsdale.

“We share a dream with SPARX Group to completely reimagine the mobility and automotive industry, with the goal to truly move society forward in a profound way.”

Working with autonomous Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) provider Beep, Local Motors dropped its Olli 2.0 off at the test center as part of a broader initiative to integrate advanced automotive technologies into the area. Introduced in 2017, the JTA’s Ultimate Urban Circulator program aims to transform the Skyway APM system in Downtown Jacksonville into a 10-mile urban transit network for automated vehicles.

Local Motors’ recent initiatives have been funded by the Mirai Creation Fund II, a Japanese group of investors worth a reported 109.3 billion (JPY), led by Toyota, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking and SPARX. Following the fund’s recent investment, Seiji Miyasaka of SPARX will join Local Motors’ board, and the firm has stated that the deal makes it well-placed to “push the industry to be a more clean, customer-centric business.”

“Delivering innovative and locally relevant vehicles and mobility solutions has been at the core of our company from the beginning,” concluded Jay Rogers, CEO of Local Motors. “SPARX’s investment proves that our commitment to low-speed autonomy and digital manufacturing can make a direct impact in the world.”

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