Jan 13 2022

Smarter Government: Peachtree Corners Breaks New Ground with a Living Lab

The city’s tech initiatives unfold within a three-mile roadway operating in the real world.

In Peachtree Corners, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta, officials established a three-mile stretch of road where autonomous vehicles, enabled by powerful 5G wireless support, ferry passengers back and forth.

“It’s basically four lanes. The inner two lanes operate very similar to a two-way street, a two-lane street, where you have cars going against each other, just like normal. Those two inner lanes are where the human-driven automobiles drive. Then, on the outside of those two lanes are the advanced vehicle lanes,” says Brian Johnson, city manager for Peachtree Corners. Those two outer lanes host driverless shuttles.

“Now, they have to interact with the human-driven automobiles the whole time. There are 32 locations in this three-mile stretch in which human-driven automobiles cross over the autonomous vehicle lanes, or vice versa,” Johnson adds.

The roadway is part of a Peachtree Corners smart city project called Curiosity Lab.

“Curiosity Lab has helped make our government smarter, because it has provided a test location, a laboratory, for us to influence policy regarding tech, for us to influence the evolution of a particular product and oftentimes, to be the first customer of tech that comes out,” Johnson says. “It’s allowed us to have a front-row seat for that stuff.”

In adopting cutting-edge technology, Peachtree Corners has become a smarter city — and one that has a hand in shaping the direction of technology developments.

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Capacity for Integration Spurs Technology Innovation

With its T-Mobile 5G installation, Peachtree Corners eyes the potential of operating video surveillance, connected lighting, connected buildings, environmental sensors, drones and virtual reality, among other innovations.

Peachtree Corners’ autonomous vehicles talk to streetlights and traffic signals. They, in turn, can send communications to pedestrian smartphones.

“It really is the city street of the future. We created this laboratory, we added all these devices, and then we made it available to public and private organizations to use,” Johnson says. “It is a living laboratory. We consider it to be the ‘walk’ phase of ‘crawl, walk, run’ for technology. In a closed laboratory environment, you can crawl with tech initiatives. Here, you can walk in the real world.”

Peachtree Corner's city manager discusses the technology that powers the living lab.

The capacity to test tools in a real-world environment has drawn companies to Peachtree Corners to demonstrate or even integrate within the lab. The results have produced innovations including a growing electric vehicle hub.

“We have the largest DC fast-charging hub in Georgia for electric vehicles. We have 18 fast chargers in one location, and people can bring their electric vehicles and charge from a fully depleted battery to a 100 percent charge in less than 40 minutes,” Johnson says.

Other innovations include cameras that can detect objects in a roadway and alert traveling cars and solar roadways that power infrastructure through solar panels.

RELATED: How will 5G networks enhance smart city solutions? 

Partners Lend Their Expertise and Resources to Curiosity Lab

Peachtree Corners depends on the expertise of its partners to make things happen, Johnson emphasizes.

“We are the owners, the operators, the maintainers and the regulators of public infrastructure. But that’s really where our true expertise ends. To take things further, we needed the help of other entities — mostly private, but some public,” he says. “We’re not an educational institution trying to teach or trying to invent the next big thing, or a private company trying to scale the next product. We just want the activity, because activity begets more activity, and that’s how we as a municipality benefit.”

Research partners test tools in the real-world environment of the test bed, organizations commit to participating in trials at Curiosity Lab facilities and companies relocate to the area. All that brings financial growth to Peachtree Corners as well.

Photo courtesy of Peachtree Corners

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