Lincoln Autonomous Shuttle Vision

Lincoln is on the move. Understanding the direction and anticipating how new transportation technologies can be utilized, the City is embarking on one of the largest deployments of autonomous shuttles into a mixed traffic environment anywhere in the United States.

What is an autonomous vehicle?

An autonomous vehicle is capable of sensing its environment and navigating without human input. There are several technologies that support these functions:

  • Radar sensors monitor the position of nearby vehicles.
  • Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) sensors detect lane markings and road edges.
  • Video cameras interpret traffic signals and road signs and detect pedestrians, nearby vehicles, and other objects.
  • A global positioning system (GPS) places the vehicle accurately within a map.
  • An on-board computer analyzes the data and controls steering, acceleration, and braking.

What would autonomous vehicles do for Lincoln?

The long-term goals of the project include:

  • Easing traffic congestion and preserving air quality in response to a growing population.
  • Providing safe and efficient transportation systems for Lincoln residents and visitors.
  • Accommodating evolving rider needs and new technologies in StarTran’s strategic plan.
  • Attracting new businesses, residents and visitors to Lincoln and Nebraska.

Project history

Before Bloomberg Philanthropies and the 2018 autonomous shuttle test, a small group of City transportation, technology and transit innovators saw an opportunity. They wanted to leverage the City’s “smart” traffic and high-speed data infrastructure to test new transportation technologies, such as autonomous shuttles.

The team commissioned HDR, Inc. to conduct a study on the technical and policy opportunities and barriers to pursuing an emerging technology system, such as an on-demand, autonomous downtown shuttle. The study identified:

  • The City of Lincoln has state-of-the-art broadband and traffic management infrastructure that could support “smart-vehicle” technologies.
  • Downtown/Haymarket traffic was ripe for a shuttle system.
  • Minor infrastructure improvements would be warranted to support autonomous vehicles.
  • A supportive and guiding regulatory framework was needed for a Nebraska municipality’s ability to pursue an autonomous vehicle pilot project.
A downtown route would serve the highest concentrations of people and attractions A downtown route would serve the highest concentrations of people and attractions
The on-demand service would be summoned by a smartphone app The on-demand service would be summoned by a smartphone app

HDR consulted City studies and surveys to build a potential route for an autonomous vehicle shuttle system, as well as a potential plan for calling the shuttle and contracting for service. The goal was to operate an autonomous vehicle pilot project for two to three months in 2019.

As a result, City leaders approached state leaders to investigate how an autonomous vehicle testing policy might fit Nebraska’s unique needs. In April, LB 989 PDF, introduced by Sen. Anna Wishart, was signed into law, opening the door for new technology in our state. As the first City to pursue a pilot project, Lincoln agreed to include and share its findings with the Nebraska Departments of Transportation and Motor Vehicles, in addition to other communities.

Private grant dollars from Bloomberg Philanthropies has allowed the City to test its idea for a few weeks in 2018 to better understand public perception, need and preferences. The purpose of the 2018 test project is to refine the potential pilot program proposed in the HDR report. The research results will help the City pursue external funding for a longer pilot project in 2019 or 2020.

Lincoln Multimodal Technology Vision

For more background and for details on the project concept, please see the Lincoln Multimodal Technology Vision Final Report. This vision is intended to lay the groundwork and outline how the initial deployment should be conducted. While it can’t answer every question, it will provide a benchmark for how the system should operate, where it could be deployed, and how it could serve the Lincoln community.