Given that Lincoln played host to one of the first road tests of an driverless car 60 years ago, maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that the city is making the strong, visionary play to again be a leader in such technology.
Lincoln is better served by being prepared for this wave of the future, as it appears to be doing, than allowing itself to be overwhelmed.
The city didn’t win a $50 million Smart Cities grant last year, one that would have created a citywide shuttle service. Undeterred, Lincoln officials have spoken of teaming up with other agencies and recently signed a nearly $100,000 contract with a private company to study technology and potential law changes; craft a potential pilot program; and examine possible business partnerships.
This is the kind of forward-thinking maneuver governments need to take to adapt to fast-approaching development. Technology moves far more quickly than the legislative process, so a proactive approach is critical.
Just within the last month, for instance, an offshoot of Google’s parent company announced it had begun testing driverless cars without a human safety driver at the wheel. Major automakers – including Ford, Volkswagen, Toyota, and General Motors – unveiled autonomous vehicles. Back in March, Forbes estimated 10 million self-driving cars would be on the road by 2020.
Nebraska is never going to be California, the epicenter of the driverless car movement. The Silicon Prairie isn’t Silicon Valley, where the companies pioneering various iterations of this technology are based. But it can be ready for when these vehicles hit the road beyond the Golden State.
For one, Nebraska can certainly contend with other Midwestern states. Three cities with fellow Big Ten Conference universities – Iowa City, Iowa; Ann Arbor, Michigan; and Madison, Wisconsin – are among the 10 autonomous vehicle testing grounds approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
And Lincoln is positioning itself well to be Nebraska’s leader. An interim study resolution before the Legislature would examine the feasibility of driverless shuttle in the downtown area of a primary-class city, of which Lincoln is Nebraska’s only one.
Lincoln’s foresight has already placed it among the world’s leaders on such technology – seriously.
The Initiative on Cities and Autonomous Vehicles, a partnership between Bloomberg and the Aspen Institute, has identified 69 cities worldwide that are either piloting (47) or preparing (22) for such cars. Lincoln falls into the latter group – alongside such high-tech hubs as Denver, Los Angeles, Portland and Seattle – and represents the smallest U.S. metropolitan area on either list.
Driverless cars have come miles since RCA used wire coils to guide a 1957 down U.S. 77 on Lincoln's western edge. Sixty years later, Lincoln’s wise efforts to play the long game have again placed it near the forefront of this booming trend.