Lincoln, Nebraska was selected as one of the 35 Champion Cities in Bloomberg Philanthropies 2018 Mayor's Challenge, receiving a $100,000 grant to pursue technological innovation. The city launched a project to introduce driverless, electric shuttles as a new method of public transport.
The shuttle is manufactured by Navya, a French corporation that specializes in automated transport. The vehicle itself is a marvelous combination of technologies to create a seamless drive. An antenna connects with between 20 and 30 global positioning satellites to direct its path around the city, giving it a margin of error of 2-3 centimeters. While this allows the shuttle to find its way around predetermined routes, there is always the challenge of changing street conditions and new obstructions. This is addressed by a Lidar system, which is a laser-based radar that uses eight sensors to create a 360-degree view of potential obstacles.
If something does enter the path of the shuttle, such as a pedestrian in a crosswalk or a car merging into its lane, the onboard computer tells the vehicle to begin slowing. Once the shuttle is within ten feet of the interfering object, it will come to a complete stop and honk if necessary. The vehicle’s route and status are remotely monitored by city staff. The top speed of the vehicle is 28 mph, but passenger rides will top out at 17 mph.
The city plans to eventually install dynamic short-range communication (DSRC) radios along popular routes. These devices would tell the driverless vehicles the status of a traffic light and let it know if the signal is about to change; it can also communicate the status of other signals in the area, allowing the shuttle to reroute around traffic jams or accidents automatically.
The transportation system will be publicly accessed by a cell phone app that prioritizes riders based on the timing of their request. Requests are on-demand, and passengers aren’t required to stick to a pre-planned route and pickup/drop off times. Fifteen passengers can fit in the shuttle, with seats for eleven sitting and four standing.
A successful pilot study was completed that involved partnership with the University of Nebraska’s faculty in the community and regional planning department. The city is in the running for at least one major grant and is pursuing other methods of funding to significantly expand the shuttle program and make it a mainstay on local streets.