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Smart Cities: The future is already here.

The First True Smart City Blossoms in Georgia’s Peachtree Corners

The city founded the Curiosity Lab, a huge facility designed to help industry test new technology.

When one thinks about the most technologically advanced smart cities in the United States, images of New York, Chicago and maybe Los Angeles come to mind. And while it’s true that many well-known cities have implemented smaller smart city projects over the years, none of them can claim the smartest city crown. That honor should probably go to Peachtree Corners, Georgia.

In case you’ve spit out your coffee upon reading that last line, I’ll give you a moment to recover. Yes, Peachtree Corners is incredibly advanced as cities go, being one of the only locations in the world where smart city technology including driverless cars, smart cameras, an artificial intelligence-controlled infrastructure and millions of internet-of-things sensors come together in one place. And the technology is not just in a lab, but is being deployed throughout the city. Even the electric scooters, which anyone can borrow to get around town, automatically show up when called, and then drive back to their home base after their human riders have been dropped off.

Peachtree Corners isn’t huge, but it’s bigger than a village. Situated alongside the Chattahoochee River at the southwest corner of Gwinnett County in the metro Atlanta area, Peachtree Corners is home to more than 40,000 residents.

The reason that Peachtree Corners is such a hub for smart city development is because the city founded the Curiosity Lab, a huge facility designed to help industry test new technology. The city doesn’t charge companies to use the Curiosity Lab, including the 1.5 mile autonomous vehicle test track. And when it comes time for smart city tech to leave the lab, it’s being deployed in the city to see how it performs in a real-world environment. That is why Peachtree Corners was one of the first cities in the world to invest in liability insurance for driverless vehicles.

As more technology gets deployed, Peachtree Corners’ officials are learning how to optimize and control it in what could be an insightful blueprint for other cities. They recently worked with a company called IPgallery to build a centralized control center that not only allows for monitoring all IoT and smart devices deployed around the city, but can learn from collected information and make decisions about how to manage everything from traffic flow to city services—with or without human intervention.

“We have data coming from a variety of devices and services across the city from our smart parking sensors, our smart cameras, bus routes, traffic signals, environmental sensors, DSRC units in the roads to Wi-Fi access points and everything in between,” Chief Technology Officer of Peachtree Corners Brandon Branham told SmartCities. “Over time, even more parts of our city will become connected, so it’s absolutely critical to formulate this data into actionable insights that result in our leadership team making quick, data-driven decisions for the benefit of city operations, our residents and overall safety across the municipality.”

Just this month, Peachtree Corners announced that it was working with Bosch to install intelligent IoT sensors at an intersection in the city. The technology will allow for the devices to control traffic flow in a real environment, and experiment to see how the technology can be deployed safely and efficiently. 

“Our 5G-enabled living laboratory will give Bosch the opportunity to push the limits of their technology in a real-world setting that is almost impossible to replicate in a closed lab, while enhancing overall city operations and the lives of our residents,” said Brian Johnson, city manager of Peachtree Corners. “The City of Peachtree Corners also provides Bosch a real-world showcase for their customers to come and experience their technology applied to an actual city, not just in concept.”  

The experiments and the innovation lab at Peachtree Corners recently celebrated their first full year of operation. And by all accounts, things are going really well in the small Georgia town. And that is great, because partnerships between government and industry for smart cities is critically important for two reasons.

As amazing as smart city technology is, deploying it does not come without risk. And I am not just talking about a driverless car running off the road or blowing through a stop sign, though that could be a problem too. The bigger danger is that as cities become more interconnected, their attack footprint increases, as does the possibility that even a small failure or glitch could cascade out to other systems or even across an entire municipality. Last year when I wrote about this problem, there really wasn’t anywhere configured for large-scale testing of smart city technology outside of a lab or a very specific pilot program. Deploying smart city tech in a real city will provide valuable insight about the advantages of using it, and also will give us a look at how we should react if things go wrong.

The other aspect that makes live test cities like Peachtree Corners so valuable is that many of the technologies being tested there can be used to promote social distancing, letting people go about their normal routines without unnecessary human interaction. While some might decry efforts to keep people apart, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown the need to design safer interactions. In the future, smart city technology could be a big help in keeping people safe from the next health crisis. But that can only happen if, as pointed out in a recent article, people actually trust the technology to drive them around, make decisions for them and manage their city’s infrastructure. 

Peachtree Corners can show us what is possible right now in regards to smart cities, and what still needs a little more work. Hopefully, we will see more places willing to adopt smart technologies in their cities and towns to keep pushing innovation. It really looks like some future utopian municipality in Peachtree Corners today. One day in the future, it will hopefully seem commonplace.

By: John Breeden II

John Breeden II is an award-winning journalist and reviewer with over 20 years of experience covering technology. He is the CEO of the Tech Writers Bureau, a group that creates technological thought leadership content for organizations of all sizes.

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