University to House Nebraska’s First Self-Driving Shuttle

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by Scott Schrage | University Communication

Nebraska Innovation Campus is living up to its name.

The university’s epicenter of forward-thinking initiatives will temporarily house the state’s first self-driving shuttle, which was announced June 20 at Nebraska Innovation Studio.

The City of Lincoln, which won a $100,000 grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies to test the autonomous system, plans to release a public riding schedule for the shuttle within the next two weeks. Expected to remain in Lincoln through at least mid-July, the electric-powered shuttle will be monitored by an onboard operator. It carries up to 15 passengers.

With the announcement, Nebraska becomes one of the first Big Ten institutions – and among just a few universities nationally – to feature an autonomous shuttle system.

“Nebraska Innovation Campus is proud to be part of Lincoln’s autonomous shuttle project,” said Dan Duncan, executive director of the campus. “NIC is designed to facilitate and grow partnerships between the public and private sector. Housing the shuttle at Nebraska Innovation Studio and hosting the initial test rides are great examples of public-private partnerships in action.”

Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler encouraged members of the university and city communities to ride and provide feedback on the autonomous shuttle, which is produced by the French company Navya. Input from riders will inform the city’s application for a $1 million or even $5 million Bloomberg grant later this year. Those larger grants, given to four of the 35 cities awarded the initial $100,000, would fund the production of up to six autonomous shuttles that would traverse fixed routes through downtown Lincoln as early as 2019.

Like many of its self-driving counterparts, the Navya shuttle features a series of cameras, global positioning systems and laser-based sensors designed to orient the vehicle and detect obstacles. The 15-foot-long vehicle continuously plugs that data into algorithms that help direct its acceleration, braking and trajectory.

The university’s Public Policy Center and College of Architecture have already begun gathering opinions on the self-driving shuttle from various demographic groups, including senior citizens and regular riders of the city’s StarTran bus service.

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