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This Private Florida Community Is a Test Bed for Urban Tech

Lake Nona, a 17-square-mile pivate planned community near Orlando International Airport in Florida, is a citywide test site for “movement analytics” technology to better understand traffic and other forms of mobility.

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A planned community in Florida is the site of a project to study “movement analytics” to better understand traffic and other forms of mobility.

Lake Nona, a 17-square-mile private community near Orlando, Fla., is the site of a smart city technology deployment by Hitachi Americas to gather movement data to begin putting forward a more thorough planning and transportation strategy.

“The goal is to prevent the creation of future traffic congestion that could negatively impact the Lake Nona experience for residents and visitors,” said Juan Santos, vice president for innovation at Tavistock Development, the company behind the Lake Nona community.

The analysis of transportation data will help the community establish goals and strategies related to multimodal transportation, autonomous vehicles and even the use of drones, say officials.

The project aims to “better understand the flow of people and things in the Lake Nona environment, so we can capture a full view of mobility,” said Santos.

Lake Nona — a mix of commercial, retail and residential, all contained within its private development envelope about four miles from Orlando International Airport — has been a leader in its use of urban technology. The community is equipped with 5G communications infrastructure, a network of sensors and even a fleet of autonomous vehicles. Hitachi has access to data related to parking, traffic signals, AV movement, as well as movement data related to cellphones held by residents.

“All of that is available because it’s a private community,” explained Dean Bushey, vice president for global social innovation business at Hitachi.

“Basically, we are ingesting as much data as we can, in preparation for answering some hypothetical questions,” he added.

By analyzing and optimizing the data, officials hope to drill down into some of the causes of traffic congestion and approaches to mitigate it. It’s not yet entirely clear what the data will reveal. Officials are now beginning to format and analyze it to see what insights can be learned from the large batches of transportation-related data.

“We’re waiting to see what the data tells us before we set specific goals,” said Santos.

Lake Nona has often been viewed as a full-scale urban tech innovation test site, welcoming partnerships with private-sector technology providers. Companies wanting to test a technology or even concept, can come to Lake Nona and “put that technology or idea in front of thousands of people and get real live interaction,” said Santos, speaking recently at the 2021 Hitachi Social Innovation Forum.

“We are able to take ideas and bring them into people’s lives in a real-life setting,” he added.

“The goal of Lake Nona,” said Bushey, “and this is their term, and I like it, is ‘frictionless travel’ in and about the community.”
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.