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Atlanta Suburb to Connect City Vehicles to ‘Everything’

Peachtree Corners, Ga., is partnering with Qualcomm Technologies and Jacobs to deploy direct vehicle-to-everything communications in two city vehicles as a development to improve safety and traffic management.

And intersection with one lane labeled "AV only."
A photo illustration showing a crosswalk in Peachtree Corners, Ga. where connected vehicle technology is being deployed, allowing autos equipped with the technology to communicate directly with roadside infrastructure.
Submitted Photo: Qualcomm
Connected vehicle technology is being installed in city vehicles and infrastructure in an Atlanta suburb in the hopes of gaining new insights into movement patterns while also improving safety.

Peachtree Corners, Ga., is partnering with transportation and communications tech companies Qualcomm Technologies and Jacobs to deploy “vehicle-to-everything” technology in two city vehicles. The move will allow fleet vehicles to communicate directly with roadside units, syncing traffic lights, pedestrian crossings and other transportation infrastructure with the vehicles.

The project hopes to optimize traffic signalization “through real data, not just the guy standing on the side of the road with his clicker,” said Brandon Branham, assistant city manager and chief technology officer in Peachtree Corners.

For starters, the onboard units will be installed on a pair of city vehicles, with plans to expand the installation more widely on more fleet vehicles, and eventually have private vehicles participate.

“So we’ll be testing with two of our fleet vehicles, and then our next step would be to outfit the rest of them as we see the outcomes based on that,” said Branham during a call with reporters May 27. “The plan is to go more. We’ve got about 350 vehicles that operate throughout the city in our different environments.”

The project will help to prepare the city as it moves forward with the launch of an autonomous shuttle project serving the city center this fall. The shuttles will also be equipped with the connected vehicle technology, say officials.

By forming better communications with vehicles, the traffic management system is able to better monitor the movement of vehicles — along with cyclists and pedestrians — leading to a safer transportation corridor, said Qualcomm officials.

“This is a direct communication link, between the vehicle and the pedestrian, or the infrastructure, or another vehicle, bicycles, whatever,” Praveen Singh, director of business development at Qualcomm, told reporters.

“You can also have network connectivity if you do want to connect to the cloud for various other reasons… but it’s not required. You can do direct communication between two nodes, or you could have connectivity into the infrastructure,” he explained.

In many respects, the city of some 44,000 residents has set itself up as a testbed for smart city applications.

The city invested about $4 million in the development of the Curiosity Lab, a space to grow economic development and emerging tech. The Curiosity Lab, a city-owned 500-acre smart city technology park, outfitted with an autonomous vehicle test track and other advancements, has led the way in exploring 5G communications, autonomous shuttles, and remote-operated scooters.

“This becomes kind of like a living laboratory where we can try out some new things. We can work with different partners,” Singh said of the Peachtree Corners project. “At the end of the day, this technology is about safety. It’s about saving lives. And so, once you start incorporating all these different players into this box here, you can start to really test things out.”

Similar connected vehicle technologies have been deployed in Texas, Colorado, Ohio, Florida and other locations.

Officials anticipate the connected vehicle technology could eventually lead to smoother-running traffic in a region plagued by significant congestion, and improved commute times will be one of the metrics transportation officials look to when evaluating the efficacy of the system.

“Corridor management is definitely going to be a leading indicator, just due to the nature of where we sit in the metro Atlanta market,” said Branham. “Traffic is a big concern here. So managing that corridor and the impact of data to real-time adjustment to the signals, and then pedestrian safety is very important.”
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.