Oct 26 2017

Atlanta Looks to Position Itself as a Tech Leader

Chatbots, IoT and self-driving cars are just a few of the ways that Atlanta is ingraining tech into its government fiber.

Soon, technology may be as synonymous with Atlanta as Coca-Cola.

Georgia has recently set out on several forward-thinking tech initiatives that involve getting a jump on cyberthreats with a new cyber innovation center and phishing training for employees, as well as launching an Amazon Alexa pilot with the aim to ease web access for residents with disabilities.

With this in mind, it’s no surprise that the state’s capital is also setting out to position itself as a leader in emerging technologies. Several local government initiatives involving chatbots, the Internet of Things (IoT) and self-driving cars have emerged in recent months.

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IoT Takes a Front Seat in Atlanta’s New Smart Corridor

In early September, the Metro Atlanta Chamber banded together with several regional companies, including AT&T, General Electric and the nonprofit Atlanta Committee for Progress, to launch IoT.ATL — an initiative that aims to bill the city as a “tech mecca.”

Georgia is looking to attract IoT companies to the area to build on its tech presence as well as publicize its assets, such as Georgia Tech’s Center for the Development and Application of Internet of Things Technologies (CDAIT).

“Because IoT — and larger digital innovations like it — will impact every part of life for every citizen and business, we’re committed to putting our resources towards driving growth in this critical sector,” said Metro Atlanta Chamber President and CEO Hala Moddelmog in a press release.

In calling for IoT companies, the city is also supporting its North Avenue Smart Corridor Project. Launched in conjunction with Georgia Tech, the project will equip a 5-mile stretch of Atlanta’s downtown with more than 100 IoT sensors to gather real-time data and provide information for city officials on maintenance, traffic, public safety and more.

“It is not just an innovation zone where we’re attempting to throw a bunch of technology at it and see how it operates,” Kirk Talbott, the executive director of the smart city initiative SmartATL, told StateScoop. “It’s also about trying to figure out which technology actually moves the needle the most in terms of the things that matter to our city: public safety, mobility, operational efficiency and whatnot.”

Atlanta Chief Information Officer Samir Saini told StateScoop that the investment in smart technologies will help the city manage its resources as it experiences huge population growth.

“The IoT piece is a very big deal because we’re never going to have enough people, public works, police and other staff to manage the current population,” Saini said. “And when the population grows, that equation isn’t going to get better. So we need the ability to sense and know what is happening in our city through sensors and not people, to predict where issues are going to happen and respond.”

In conjunction with these efforts, the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) is also working with Renew Atlanta, an infrastructure improvement program.

Within the North Avenue Smart Corridor, the partners will work to deploy major traffic technology upgrades, including connected traffic signals and the installation of fiber communications. They also will explore opportunities for autonomous and connected vehicles, Renew Atlanta's General Manager Faye DiMassimo told Government Technology.

“As we monitor and learn from the initial smart technologies and integrate the findings from our research partnership with Georgia Tech, the Renew Atlanta effort will be rolling out additional smart transportation solutions to additional corridors and activity centers throughout the city of Atlanta,” DiMassimo told the source.

Chatbots Emerge to Streamline Atlanta’s 311

Artificial Intelligence-fueled chatbots are making their way into several local government websites and operations as a way to help streamline both the government staff workload and customer service for residents.

In Atlanta, the city has launched a project to augment its ATL 311 services via the technology. It hopes to provide more timely information to residents more quickly and after-hours, thus relieving the workload for government employees who may be otherwise tasked with answering those questions.

You can have every person speak to somebody that has all the knowledge,” David McClellan, practice director at Neal Analytics, the company developing the chatbot, told StateScoop. “Whereas, in the typical call center scenario, you’re going to have to go through somebody who has to talk to their manager who has to talk to somebody else in a different department. And it takes a long time to get to that information that you’re seeking.”

In developing the chatbot, the city is mining the 311 website for frequently requested information and will use the info to develop the bot using Microsoft Bot Framework.

“Being able to have bots that are trained off of specific and privileged datasets allows for new capabilities in those mission-critical type environments where you can't allow that data to just go out into the ether,” McClellan told StateScoop.

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