It seems everyone’s talking about the future of transportation these days. You know, things like self-driving cars and “smart” traffic signals.
While it may seem this high-tech future is still a looong way off, there’s a lot happening right now on the ground here in Georgia.
Here’s a look at some notable projects that experts and officials will be discussing at this month’s ConnectATL conference, put on by ARC and GDOT.
Curiosity Lab, City of Peachtree Corners
The internet of things is advancing — and if you’re not sure what that is, just think of our connected home security systems, appliances, and other high-tech devices embedded in everyday objects. Ask “Alexa/Siri, what’s the internet of things?” and the real response should be: “Why, that’s me.”
In this increasingly communicative landscape, the city of Peachtree Corners in Gwinnett County has transformed a technology park into a living lab for smart-city technology, featuring a 1.5-mile track where companies test electronic vehicle tech innovations in a real-world environment.
Among the test track’s bells and whistles: intelligent traffic signals that communicate with one another and with the smart vehicles that travel them, smart cameras and sensors operating on 5G technology, and roads with built-in solar panels.
Data collected on the road is communicated back to a centralized network operations center. And maybe most interesting: these 500 acres really are part of the greater community. Besides pedestrians walking to and from their jobs each day, the area is also frequented by cyclists.
Microtransit Pilot, Gwinnett County
Say you don’t have a car. How then, do you get around in an area that lacks the population to sustain a regular bus route?
In a recent pilot program, Gwinnett found an answer in microtransit — which hits the sweet spot between private vehicles (like taxis or ride-hailing cars) and public mass transit.
Concentrating its pilot in the city of Snellville, Gwinnett employed seven 12-passenger buses that riders could hail either by phone call or by using a special smart phone app. According to the county: “An algorithm [then] routed the closest bus to pick passengers up with minimal disruption for other riders. The app also showed the bus location and estimated arrival time.”
More than 43,000 people took advantage of the program during its seven-month pilot, according to the Atlanta-Journal Constitution.
Data collected during the pilot — including operational data and costs — will help the county to hone the details of its next steps—which are to both revive the program in Snellville and expand it to the city of Buford.
The Ray, I-85 in Troup County
If the Curiosity Lab is a testing ground for the possibilities of transportation tech in a single community, then The Ray is all about taking those possibilities out on the open road.
An 18-mile stretch of I-85 southwest of Atlanta, The Ray collects real-time data from cars equipped with something called “Vehicle-to-Everything” technology. “V2X,” as it’s sometimes called, is the wave of the future when it comes to vehicle tech. It refers, simply, to the transmitting of info between vehicles and other vehicles, stoplights, nearby pedestrians, and broader communications systems like cell networks.
The Ray’s website calls “managing and making sense of that data” “critical” — “not only for managing congestion but for improving roadway safety and saving lives.”
The big-picture idea is to lay the groundwork for future connected roads across the state — allowing for advances like driverless cars and platoons of autonomous trucks. For now, however, it’s also a testing ground for V2X communication and a slew of new innovations like “solar barriers,” intended to reduce noise from the highway while capturing solar energy.
Environmental components like this are not an afterthought. The project’s namesake is Ray C. Anderson, a Georgia businessman who championed sustainability. Other “green” elements on The Ray include roadside pollinator gardens as well as native-plant bioswales — special drainage ditches filled with plants or compost that captures particulate pollutants during rainstorms. The state welcome center located on this stretch is also home to a tire safety-check station, as ill-inflated tires reduce fuel efficiency; as well as the state’s first electric vehicle charging station powered by solar cells built into the road.
What’s Next ATL, produced by the Atlanta Regional Commission, is a community resource that explores how metro Atlanta is growing and changing, and how the region is addressing its most pressing challenges.