As cities become smarter and more connected, data will begin to inform infrastructure to make the entire city run more efficiently. One area that can be tackled by smart city insights, particularly important to Atlantans, is traffic (after all, we earned the unfortunate accolade of a top ten spot on 2016 Worst Traffic Cities in America).
Improving this all comes down to orchestration, says MetroTech CEO Christian Kotscher. MetroTech examines current traffic conditions by using existing video infrastructure to deliver real-time output to local governments. If smarter cities have better traffic analytics, they can sync traffic lights more efficiently and help residents navigate rush hour with more accurate information.
From there, the benefits trickle down to infrastructure, building location, and increased profitability for businesses (think UPS, Fedex and ride sharing companies) who can use the sensor data to travel better, faster. While initial adoption can be challenging, cities looking into the future are taking notice. Most recently, the startup was named one of Govtech’s Inaugural Top 100 List as an emerging competitor in the industry of smart infrastructure.
With pilots already begun in the Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta and Silicon Valley, Kotscher dives deeper into the challenges they encountered with raising funds and implementation as they grew, and where Atlanta stands as a smart city.
You have been working on improving traffic in Silicon Valley in the last few years. What’s the current status of the project?
For the last five years, we’ve been counting three to four million vehicle movements per day in Silicon Valley. This data feeds there signal timing optimization tables that results in a more efficient ride through Silicon Valley. We’ve been making traffic better on what we call, the orchestration side. We have a half a dozen other cities where we are deployed or in process.
The phase that we’re exploring right now, and we’re ready to launch with some big names, is the navigation side. That’s taking the data that the city’s using for better efficiency and getting it to the UPS truck, fleets thru Verizon telematics, the AT&T mobility connected car, the Uber app or the Lyft app. Getting information to the drivers, so they can make better decisions while driving.
How many times have you passed an exit, and come into a traffic jam. Whereas, if you’d known that that was your last exit before the jam, and had more information about it, you’d have made a better decision. That’s the next stage we’re looking to explore. We’re really looking to disrupt traffic.
How can cities apply this information back into their infrastructure?
We did a pilot in Buckhead a few years ago. Once you’ve got a highly accurate measurement of a city street, there’s a lot of things you can do with that. You can use that to figure out where to put your next 400 million dollar building. You can use that to time signals. You can use it for immediate navigation. You can use it for mass evacuations. It can be used for critical applications like routing police, ambulance, and fire. It makes for a Smarter City.
When pitching these concepts to investors, you mentioned that it was difficult five years ago. Are you now approaching it in a different way or is there a better understanding about smart cities now?
The market has matured to the point, when I mention autonomous vehicles, people no longer laugh me out of the room. Ten years ago, when I was talking about Smarter Cities and Connected Cars, people didn’t have it in their vocabulary. They didn’t understand what that meant. They might have understood the words, they didn’t understand how something like that would work.
Those people who are investing billions of dollars in their post-autonomous vehicle strategy, are the ones that we are having fantastic talks with. They understand that what we are developing with millions of dollars in an investment of MetroTech is not fully commercialized next year. But, in five years. That’s the type of thing that’s going to become, what we call the data utility. A Smarter City data utility, a necessity for the Smarter City and the Autonomous Vehicle to operate in harmony. That’s what we’ve built, and that’s what are seeking to expand.
What’s one challenge that cities may encounter while trying to implement this new technology?
We’re working with cities and they said they’ve been having issues getting their existing transportation department to adopt new things. That’s constantly a struggle. The tactic that I suggested was transparency. You’ve got to develop a system in your Smarter City approach where the mayor has daily access to look up on the dashboard, get a report and see why are people telling him traffic’s worse today, what’s going on, and what’s behind that.
Right now, for a mayor to get that kind of information, requires a meeting and an act of a city council. And, that’s what is a challenge for this process. Getting in and being able to do something innovative.
Where do you think Atlanta stands as a smart city? What do you hope to see in the city’s future?
The Atlanta metropolitan area stands on the cusp of becoming the nation’s first truly Smarter City for traffic. By moving quickly and harnessing the multiple owners of sensors along the roads, we could actually have this implemented and running by the end of the year, allowing the voting public to experience a big improvement of traffic flow through the area. We are working closely with the Mayor Reed’s team to make this happen.