When Lincoln didn't get a Smart Cities $50 million grant to create a citywide driverless shuttle service in 2016, city staff didn't give up.
Public Works is still hoping to make sure Lincoln is at the forefront of the driverless car movement that many believe will change the country's transportation system.
The city has signed a $99,470 contract with HDR Inc. to give Lincoln an edge as private companies perfect driverless vehicles of the future.
The study will look at the latest technology, describe a potential pilot project, provide business models for future service, and look at insurance and necessary law changes.
The consultant will also provide information about current vehicle providers and facilitate meetings with industry leaders.
The consultant will also develop a PowerPoint presentation for briefing others and a short video summarizing the concepts.
"Technology in this area is changing so rapidly, we wanted to get our arms around what is the latest and greatest," said Lonnie Burklund, assistant director of transportation for the Public Works and Utilities Department.
The study will help Lincoln determine the best software and hardware for intersections now being upgraded as part of what is called Green Light Lincoln, said Burklund.
"I am hoping we can sort of future-proof our signal upgrades ... learn how vehicles will talk to each other, how they will talk with the infrastructure," Burklund said about the way the study might help with Green Light Lincoln signal upgrades.
"We want to know the practices of other cities and states, the legislative and legal impacts," in order to move forward with a potential pilot project, Burklund said.
The result of the study should be a report that can be given to the Legislature, which is looking at driverless vehicles, often called autonomous vehicles (AVs) or micro-autonomous vehicles.
A legislative resolution (LR215) appears to be specifically aimed at Lincoln, proposing to "study the feasibility of a pilot project to allow a city of the primary class to operate autonomous shuttles." A legislative research division report on AVs notes Lincoln did not get the Smart City Challenge grant "but city officials say they are seeking private and University of Nebraska partners to move a version of the plan."
Lincoln's Smart City grant application was a big idea — a fleet of driverless vans and cars that would offer rides across the city. This study is a little more focused, looking at what it would take to create a driverless downtown shuttle, Burklund said.
Lincoln is hoping to become a pilot project, Burklund said. There is no money available from the state, but there is interest from the private sector and there are possibilities of public-private partnerships.
"After all, Lincoln is the Silicone Prairie. We have some smart folks here, at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, at local firms," Burklund said.
"We want to be proactive and not reactive. We want to have some documentation and a thorough analysis of what does this new technology mean for Lincoln. We want to be able to future-proof our own system and be ready for this potential wave of the future."
The Legislature's Research Division report on AVs says "the potential for how this technology will alter our lives is mind-boggling. AVs stand to alter how society views disability, uses its time, develops infrastructure and provides jobs."
The report points to the rapidly changing developments in the AV world and the difficulty in keeping up. "Summarizing the status of AVs is like trying to catch a speeding bullet in your softball mitt — just too fast and dangerous."
The Lincoln study, which should be completed by spring, is being led by the company and the individual who worked with Columbus, Ohio, the community that won the Smart City grant, Burklund said.
"We have the best working on this," he said.