Atlanta-based non-profit The Ray partnered with GDOT and Panasonic this past August to create a vehicle-to-everything (V2X) data ecosystem designed to enable Georgia’s first connected interstate roadway.
“Partnering with Panasonic and our department of transportation made perfect sense,” co-founder Harriet Anderson Langford tells Hypepotamus. “We want our highway to be the smartest, safest and most sustainable highway, and we know that Panasonic has the brains and technology that they can gather all this information on everything that’s going on on this highway.”
The Ray, the only non-profit in the world that runs a living laboratory for transportation tech and clean energy pilots on a stretch of public highway, was also named one of Newsweek’s Momentum Awards’ Top 100 Smart City Partners earlier this month. The award recognizes bold and unique city-driven initiatives.
GDOT will use the CIRRUS by Panasonic data management platform to access a connected vehicle “brain” that can receive, analyze and leverage data shared between connected cars and trucks virtually in real-time. They can then use this information to improve roadway safety, ease congestion, and identify maintenance needs and roadway interruptions.
“What Panasonic looks for are patterns,” Langford adds. “When drivers’ wipers come on, they know we’ve got water on the highway. That’s a great opportunity to remind people to be careful and slow down. Panasonic has created a brain, and we can use that brain to manage highway systems in predictable patterns that can save lives.”
The Ray, at its core, is an 18-mile stretch of I-85 in Troup County, Georgia, between West Point and LaGrange. The road functions as a living laboratory designed to explore smart planting, solar powered-highways, data-connected roads, bioswales, and more.
“We’re looking at a highway and thinking, ‘How can we make this more regenerative and not a detriment?’ Our goal is three things: zero carbon, zero waste and zero deaths,” Langford says.
That stretch of highway represents the two cities where the non-profit’s namesake, Ray C. Anderson, lived and founded what would become Interface, Inc., which is now an Atlanta-based global commercial flooring manufacturer.
When Anderson passed away in 2011, he tasked his daughters — including Langford — with running his eponymous foundation, which invested in several initiatives, including the highway that would become The Ray.
“We looked at any technologies around the world that we thought would be viable in the transportation sector,” Langford says. “We’ve created a public-private-philanthropic partnership, which is really rare in terms of things that we could cost-share on.”
One of The Ray’s first projects ultimately became Georgia’s first electric vehicle charging station powered by solar energy. Three years ago, the Ray also installed the first U.S. Wattway installation, a solar cell-paved road that produces electricity from its pavement. That electricity now powers the Georgia Visitor Information Center .
This summer, the non-profit partnered with Troup County to pave one mile along The Ray with a mix of traditional asphalt and rubber that came from recycled tires. Then the GDOT could make a side-by-side comparison between between conventional and rubberized asphalt on the road.
According to The Ray, this rubberized pavement not only extends the life of the road by 15 to 20 percent, but also helps drivers avoid skidding and hydroplaning during rainstorms. In addition, it also helps the environment by recycling some of the 300 million tires discarded each year.
“We have created a very valid partnership with GDOT and our federal highway system,” Langford says. “That, in turn, provides us more freedom to discuss technologies that are coming and what we could try on this 18-mile living lab. To me, that is a huge accomplishment.”