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Georgia and Alabama Cities Become Test Beds for Early Warning Traffic Safety App

Atlanta, Marietta, Ga. and Tuscaloosa, Ala., are launching an IoT project that connects cars, cyclists and pedestrians to improve safety and mobility on busy urban roadways.

Cyclists in downtown Atlanta could soon get an alert on their smartphone when a car is coming up behind them. And motorists idling at a traffic signal could get a countdown on their phones alerting them to when the lights will switch from red to green.

These are just some of the features of a new app called Glance TravelSafely, which connects traffic signals, school beacon signage and objects to each other, and then communicates this data to a smartphone app. The idea is to link drivers, cyclists and pedestrians to the infrastructure and each other to improve safety and mobility.

(Here's a demonstration video.)

For now, the network of connected devices in Atlanta will only be available in a relatively small downtown area, beginning near the first of the year. Applied Information Inc., the Georgia technology firm leading the project, will deploy its “Dedicated Short-Range Communications” (DSRC) technology and wireless cellular technology at 46 intersections, five school zone beacons, nine pedestrian crossing beacons and 24 traffic communications corridors.

Admittedly, said Applied Information’s CEO and Founder Bryan Mulligan, it's not a vast coverage area, given the sprawling size of the Atlanta metro region. And yes, the only way anyone will even know this connectivity exists is by downloading the app.

“As we go forward – and we’re at the stage of test and initial rollout – and like a vaccine, it will work much better if everybody adopts it,” said Mulligan in a phone call following a ribbon-cutting in Atlanta Sept. 13, launching the project.

“We can save some lives by just warning people if they’re going to run a red light. Let's start there. If they’re going to hit a cyclist and so forth,” he explained.

Applied Information is also partnering with Marietta, Ga., to beta-test a similar project where the company has deployed some 200 of its DSRC connection devices.

“The goal is to have the TravelSafely app available for the public in January,” said Bill Bruton, city manager for Marietta. “At this point we are letting employees and some other interested citizens use the app so that we can fine-tune its presentation."

Bruton said the project has been working well so far, and that the hardware devices that the app uses are already installed in various street signal lights, pedestrian lights, speed devices, school zone flashers, work zone flashers and message type boards.

Applied Information will also deploy its hardware across 85 intersections in Tuscaloosa, Ala., home of the University of Alabama.

“The whole town is a test bed for the university,” said Mulligan.

A “connected city” is the future Mulligan offered, as he spoke broadly about the future of cities and their ability — and in many cases eagerness — to embrace the Internet of Things. And the smartphone is perhaps the best device to bring that connectivity to each resident.

“We’ve got all this computing power in everybody’s hand, in the vehicle. Lets start there and see what we can do,” said Mulligan.

The TravelSafely projects seem to be catching on.

“What we’re doing is we’re going to do pilot schemes in 2017… and we thought we’d do one of two. And as it happens we’ve got eight underway,” said Mulligan.

“Quite quickly we’re getting to 400 and 500 intersections with devices out there, all supporting this technology,” he added.

City officials say the technology has the ability to inject an added layer of safety into the often busy and chaotic world of urban roadways.

"The Marietta TravelSafely app will be a major step in our efforts to be one of the most connected cities in America,” said Bruton, the city manager. “When it goes live to the public in January we believe we will have one of the ‘smartest’ transportation networks in the country. Users will be able to tell if they are speeding, if an emergency vehicle is approaching, if they are going too fast for the red light ahead, if a pedestrian is in the road ahead, if a cyclist is in the road and if they are speeding in school or work zones.” 

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.