How Partnerships are Enhancing Smart City Efforts
Technology plays a key role in Ann Arbor’s autonomous vehicles, with sensors, cameras, radar, LIDAR — “everything that helps the system to visualize its environment,” Doshi says. To ensure safe operation, each vehicle requires, among other things, five lidar devices, five radars, seven cameras and multiband GPS.
“We are collecting a lot of data, trying to measure the potential of autonomous vehicle services to integrate smoothly with existing transportation systems and make it accessible to more people,” Doshi says.
For Ann Arbor’s AV initiative, “there isn’t any funding from the city itself,” she says. Instead, funders for the AV project include Mcity; important Safety Technologies, an emerging technology company working on pedestrian safety; 4M, Ann Arbor’s first co-living townhomes; the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Office of Future Mobility and Electrification; and Ann Arbor SPARK.
“This collection of private, public and academic partners exemplifies that mobility is not just the responsibility of the public sector,” Doshi says.
Cloud Connectivity Is Proving Key for Smart Cities
In Peachtree Corners, Ga., Assistant City Manager and CTO Brandon Branham oversees Piloting Autonomous Use Locally, or PAUL. Born on a 3-mile test track operated by the economic development initiative Curiosity Lab, the autonomous shuttle services residents at seven stops along the city’s Technology Parkway.
“We are focused on economic development, setting ourselves apart from other cities,” Branham says. “We looked at what cities can do to help advance technology in the different areas of smart cities and smart mobility. Now, we’re making use of public infrastructure to test some of these emerging technologies.”
The shuttle carried just over 600 passengers in its first four and a half months, and is a key piece of the city’s overall smart city efforts.
“We want to move citizens and employees around in a more efficient, sustainable model, and we know that the biggest expense for any transportation operation, outside of the vehicle itself, is manpower,” Branham says.
The economic development piece comes from positioning the city as a leader in civic tech. “We’ve been able to bring other companies here,” he says. “Projects like this help to bring them here. These companies see what we’re doing and they want to be a part of that.”
Cloud connectivity is key to bringing to life the AV vision. “That helps from a learning perspective — learning from what is happening in those environments, what the different things are that are going on in the public space,” he says. “If we see an incident where the shuttle had a hard stop, we can go back to the data and figure out why.”
For cities looking to support an AV effort, it helps to start small. Peachtree Corners, for example, leveraged its test track as a starting point supported by a powerful 5G network supplied by T-Mobile.
“You don’t know how safe it is until you put it out and you put it in the test. So, you start in a closed-course environment where you can control all the variables,” Branham says.