Though there has been much talk about the City of Atlanta’s autonomous vehicle testing on the North Avenue Smart City corridor, smaller cities have also been shown to reap benefits from exploring smart city technologies. The city of Peachtree Corners, a northern suburb of Atlanta in Gwinnett County, is testing those potential benefits with a city-owned autonomous vehicle track and an accompanying advanced vehicle technology accelerator.
The $2 million project will create a dedicated 1.4-mile track along the city’s Technology Parkway with a self-driving shuttle that runs back and forth. Though it will carry riders, the corridor also will serve as a testbed for startups and companies to test smart city pilots, similarly to the North Avenue project in Atlanta’s midtown neighborhood.
That’s where the advanced vehicle accelerator comes in. Facilitated by city-supported startup incubator Prototype Prime, which is situated along Technology Parkway, the program will look to explore emerging technologies in the transportation space — electric vehicles, autonomous and self-driving vehicles, connectivity and more.
“Initially we’ll have a test vehicle running on the track all day long,” explains Sanjay Parekh, Prototype Prime’s founder and Director. “We’ll be the ones engaging with startups who can use this test vehicle to try out new technologies, data collection, etc.”
The accelerator is being produced in partnership with TechConnectHub.com, a platform that connects corporations that have business needs with their community of 1.5 million technology innovators to devise solutions. They do so with challenges, research and sector-specific accelerators like this one.
Brock Kolls, co-founder of TechConnectHub, says they haven’t yet identified the corporations that will be involved in the Peachtree Corners vehicle accelerator but have spoken to several interested parties and expect to solidify partners soon.
Peachtree Corners is often ahead of the curve in supporting startups. The largest city in Gwinnett County, with a population of about 42,000, the area was conceived as a hub for technology companies. In addition to providing the capital for Prototype Prime, they implemented an ordinance that incubated startups don’t have to pay business licensing fees for their first three years.
They’re also no stranger to smart city pilots, having already implemented smart city technologies for street lighting and parking.
“In Peachtree Corners, Technology Park has long been known as the cradle of cutting-edge technology. Adding an autonomous vehicle test track is simply a natural progression for the city that has been renowned as a leading innovator in numerous technology fields over the 40+ years since Paul Duke, a Georgia Tech graduate, envisioned an environment for fostering developing new technologies,” says Brian Johnson, Peachtree Corners’ City Manager. “We expect the development of self-driving vehicle technology will promote economic growth, bring new jobs and provide research opportunities for businesses in Technology Park.”
Parekh echoed that vision of economic development.
“If you look at metro Atlanta, way more people live outside of the City of Atlanta than inside of it. So we’ve got to have the efficient movement of people and things everywhere if it’s going to help us with our ongoing traffic issues,” says Parekh. “On the other side, this endeavor will allow government folks to look at the technologies as they develop and better plan to accommodate those advances in the future.”
The track is slated to open by January 2019.