Curiosity Lab at Peachtree Corners, a tech incubator, and autonomous vehicle and smart city living laboratory just north of Atlanta, has been recognized by IDC Government Insights’ Smart Cities North America Awards (SCNAA) for its innovation in the transportation space.
The awards highlight what North American communities have done to implement Smart Cities projects and provide a platform to share best practices to help jumpstart the development of those projects. Curiosity Lab and the city of Peachtree Corners were honored for developing a unique location — a 1.5-mile test track — to design, test and demonstrate cutting-edge technology in a real-world environment, as well as a non-profit economic development initiative designed to attract tech founders and their startups to the area.
“We look at ourselves as facilitators of innovation, and we’ve created this very cool technology sandbox for companies of all sizes to come and try, to bring their technology toys to improve them, make them better and then take them out into the world,” says Curiosity Lab executive director Betsy Plattenburg.
That said, autonomous vehicles aren’t the only toys in Curiosity Lab’s sandbox.
“There’s an awful lot of research being done in electrification and electric vehicle charging. There’s an awful lot of research being done in vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communication in whatever we’ll be driving around in — cars, your personal pod, whatever it may be, right?” says Plattenburg.
“It’s going to be communicating to traffic lights or to other vehicles, or to the building that we’re about to enter to change the climate. There’s all kinds of things that in a very, very hyper-connected world, that people need to test, whether it’s cybersecurity, or the interference of signals have bouncing off buildings or tall trees, there are a lot of things that will be tested that you won’t see, but will probably be even more critical.”
Curiosity Lab’s physical features include a 13-percent grade on the track that lends itself to experimentation with computer vision, as well as shade trees that allow observation of changes in light patterns and roads ripe for testing traffic patterns.
“We’re having interest from around the globe, because it’s difficult to replicate all those things in one place,” says Plattenburg. “We’re trying to get people to come, even if it’s for a day or a week or a few months. We’re open to that and that’s one of our metrics for success. We have had hundreds of visits already with tech companies of all sizes coming from all over the place to see this facility to understand it and to figure out how they can use it, and so each of those visits was an economic development within itself.”
One thing that sets Curiosity Lab apart is the fact that a single government entity, the city of Peachtree Corners, owns its infrastructure. This single jurisdiction, says Plattenburg, helps companies avoid seeking state and county permissions that could bog down the testing process.
“If you wanted to come and test something … there’s only one government jurisdiction. This is a small city of 45,000 people, but they are willing and open to the idea of experimentation and innovation. It’s a place that’s incentivized to say ‘yes’ to help advance technology. That’s a very unique feature.”
Another unique aspect lies in its public-private partnership. Although the city is Curiosity Labs’ major investor, private partners like Sprint and Georgia Power have stepped in to provide additional infrastructure. “It’s a really cool combination of public money and private money,” says Plattenburg.
In a statement, IDC Government Insights Vice President Ruthbea Yesner touted Curiosity Lab’s unique approach to innovation. “From IDC’s ongoing analysis and tracking of Smart City and Communities initiatives, we know that government officials across the country are committed to implementing innovative Smart City initiatives, designed to bring about meaningful changes to the way we live, work, play and interact,” Yesner said.
“Successful initiatives involve an ecosystem of partners, such as the vendors who are also working hard to address the needs to cities and states, as well as non-profits and educational institutions.”
As Curiosity Lab continues to grow and innovate, Plattenburg wants to keep facilitating what she calls “intentional collisions” between innovators throughout the startup ecosystem. “We want to introduce people who might not normally run into one another, who are maybe working on similar problems from different ways,” she says.
“We feel like one of our roles in the connected world and mobility space is to literally facilitate introductions, where people go forth and do cool things.”
“There have been a surprising amount of experts that have come out of the woodwork who live within a few miles of Peachtree Corners — or in some cases, in Peachtree Corners,” Plattenburg continues.
“It’s been fun to see people say [they’d] like to mentor or provide expertise. I think Atlanta has a phenomenal tech talent that we don’t always see sometimes until there’s a new lead or a new opportunity, and then it sort of rises up. But there’s a lot of cool people that we live among.”
Curiosity Lab will be honored at the Smart Cities Connect Fall Conference & Expo, scheduled for November 17-19, 2020.