September 27, 2022
By Kelsey Neely, DRIVEN360 Account Executive, and Caryn Vorster, Group Head of Technical and Proposal Writing, Applied Information
When it comes to transportation and mobility, the private sector has been spearheading the development and deployment of autonomous, electrified, and innovative city-connected infrastructure technologies. With these technologies evolving at an exponential rate, the private sector is now working to bridge the gap with the public sector by developing the building blocks that facilitate the widespread deployment of these innovations. Working closely with early adopter cities has been key to advancing real-world implementation while simultaneously creating a blueprint for large cities gradually taking steps toward realizing their own unique smart city vision.
At the heart of north metro Atlanta in what is being called “Silicon Orchard,” the City of Peachtree Corners – and its living laboratory ecosystem called Curiosity Lab – is leading the way in creating that blueprint on an unprecedented level both domestically and even internationally.
This innovative municipality has shown the country how to roll out smart, city-owned infrastructure along public right-of-way – essentially constructing a ‘city street of the future’ to create a living laboratory for intelligent and smart city emerging technologies. This living lab includes a three-mile autonomous vehicle test and demonstration lane on a public roadway that sees more than 9,000 regular passenger cars pass through each day. This facility is painting a picture of how autonomous vehicles can operate in the safest way possible in real-world suburban and urban environments, thereby improving overall public safety and the flow of traffic in the city as a whole. It’s here where the first-ever cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) technology was deployed in a real-world setting by a U.S. city (in partnership with telecommunications giant Qualcomm), which included arrays of sensors, lidar, camera-as-a-sensor units and more with technologies installed in light poles, intersections, crosswalks, buildings, and other fixtures.
“In our city, the idea of a living laboratory is not just a concept. This is because our residents, cyclists, pedestrians and other members of the commuting public are using city streets alongside fully autonomous vehicles with communication happening between them in real-time through some of the world’s most advanced technologies,” said Peachtree Corners City Manager Brian Johnson. “As a city, we recognize that connected vehicle technology makes transportation more advanced, more efficient, and safer for our residents. We are showing cities across the country how to take steps to implement various technologies that can move them toward building a complete smart city environment. We believe that C-V2X technology is crucial for advanced and autonomous vehicles to navigate and become aware of their surroundings on a critical level for public safety.”
Technologies Tested in Real-World Environment
From this wide range of sensors, IoT devices, and smart vehicles, a massive amount of data is generated, processed at the edge, and then sent over different types of network connections, including 5G, to Peachtree Corners’ first-of-its-kind “IoT Control Room.” City officials can then monitor, analyze and manage the aggregated data to make quick decisions in areas such as traffic management and public safety. This might include responding to emergencies by mobilizing first responders and orchestrating traffic signals to allow for the fastest response possible.
“We like to refer to Curiosity Lab as a ‘living laboratory’ where technologies that have graduated from a closed, controlled environment go to be tested in a real-world environment before being scaled across major cities like New York. Curiosity Lab is now known worldwide as the ideal place to prove out these technologies,” said Peachtree Corners Assistant City Manager Brandon Branham. “From a transportation standpoint, autonomous vehicles are the most obvious illustration of how infrastructure and mobility need to evolve alongside one another. Our fleet of autonomous shuttles, operated by mobility-as-a-service provider and software developer Beep Inc., is C-V2X capable and communicates with its surroundings over T-Mobile’s 5G.”
The Beep shuttles transporting city residents along public streets demonstrate how vehicles can communicate with infrastructure, pedestrians, and other vehicles in a truly smart city environment. Here, they leverage various sensors and lidar and are monitored via cameras and other technology during their route.
“Locations such as Peachtree Corners allow us to conduct real-time testing and gather important data to improve the performance and safety of our autonomous shuttles continually. We currently operate with attendants on board, although the vehicles perform in fully autonomous mode, so they can navigate certain scenarios where the vehicle may be unable to interface with, such as a traffic signal or situations that may necessitate a manual maneuver,” said Beep CEO Joe Moye. “As we shift attendants off of the vehicles to provide remote oversight and safety monitoring for the AVs in the next two years, interfacing with smart infrastructure will be most critical for the expanded use of these transformative platforms. Implementing smart infrastructure to advance autonomous mobility does not require vehicles to perform every function a human can. Rather, it is about using all the data and insights on the roadways to further prevent accidents and fatalities and provide warnings to predict potential situations humans cannot see to ultimately make the roads materially safer.”
NEMA Member Optimistic About Transportation's Future
Recently, Applied Information, a developer of smart city traffic technology, connected vehicle applications, and intelligent transportation system (ITS) solutions, introduced 5G-connected vehicle technology that enables traffic signals to communicate with any vehicle on the road via a revolutionary mobile app. This enables the communication of traffic signal information, such as signal phase and timing, and map data, to road users via a smartphone app called TravelSafely. Residents simply download the app to allow their vehicles, which likely are not equipped with advanced smart city technology, to communicate with smart infrastructure and its surroundings.
This connectivity is designed to warn of red light running and crashes involving pedestrians and cyclists. It also enables Beep’s autonomous shuttles to communicate with traffic signals and receive green light priority at intersections – the first-ever preemption system for an autonomous vehicle using 5G.
“There is a huge reason to be optimistic about several things relating to the future of transportation,” said Bryan Mulligan, the founder of Applied Information. “For example, the ingenuity of technology to solve very real problems, and the ability to use private sector capital to fund solutions to these problems, is demonstrated here in Peachtree Corners. This is where the iATL (Infrastructure Automotive Technology Laboratory), based in the City of Alpharetta, GA, and the Curiosity Lab are working together as collaborators, showcasing the role of the private sector as the technology developer – and the public sector as the policymaker that creates the regulations necessary to optimize safety and efficiency.”
Working in collaboration with the Curiosity Lab, the iATL, powered by Applied Information, has been an important piece of the puzzle. The primary function of the iATL is to serve as an engineering laboratory that brings together automakers, cellular network operators, and technology companies to develop connected vehicle applications. Surrounded by more than 120 connected devices in the City of Alpharetta, Georgia, the iATL provides a diverse environment for real-world testing in normal traffic conditions – including in Peachtree Corners.
Overall, with the pace of intelligent mobility technologies not slowing down, the importance of how these technologies can be integrated into the real world and in the safest manner possible is the great challenge of our time. The collaboration between technology developers, mobility leaders, regulatory bodies, and government entities is proving critical. One has to look no further than the heart of Silicon Orchard at Curiosity Lab, where green, electric autonomous shuttles from Beep – coupled with T-Mobile 5G and a wide range of emerging innovations from companies like Applied Information – are showing the rest of the country the way.