26 ISE Magazine | www.iise.org/ISEmagazine
The idea of a futuristic city where people and ma-
chines interact seamlessly has long been a common
theme in science fiction and pop culture. It depicts
a utopia where devices in homes, transportation
and workplaces are guided by sensors and connect-
ed by computers, all sharing information to antici-
pate and adjust for human comfort, efficiency and safety.
As we head into the 2020s, such an environ-
ment inches closer to reality. But are people
fully prepared for smart city automation to move out of labo-
ratories and into the public square? Though various elements
of the technology already exist in many areas, the final hurdle
toward widespread connectivity depends not only on systems
engineers working out the final bugs but also on society
adapting to a new age of “smartness.
Clearing that last-mile gap was a common theme in dis-
cussions at the Smart City Expo
Atlanta held Sept. 11-13,
2019. The Atlanta event is
the lone U.S. edition of
Smart City Expo
World Congress, a
global conference
held annually in
Are we ready for smarter cities?
2020 and BEYOND
A high-tech urban future requires engineering expertise, education and collaboration
By Keith Albertson
January 2020 | ISE Magazine 27
on smart cities and smart urban solutions.
Amid a display of smart city products and applications,
experts at various panels agreed that a coordinated effort is
needed from governments, businesses and academia to make
such technology available and embraced by the public.
This is our 21st century public works,” said Grace Sim-
rall, chief of civic innovation and technology for Louisville,
Internet of things (IoT) communication already is widely
used by industry. Its next generation offers the potential to
make everyday devices smart and interactive rather than pro-
grammed merely to follow a predictable set of functions.
Connected cities can enhance life in several areas:
Environmental. The use of smart devices in transporta-
tion and utilities can reduce carbon emissions while saving
money and resources. Many homes and buildings now use
IoT technology for security, lighting and temperature adjust-
ment to manage energy use. Incorporating that technology
across an urban area is seen as a way to improve convenience,
comfort and sustainability.
Such connected buildings and homes “can provide cost
savings without impacting comfort and provide solutions eas-
ily scaled to multiple sizes of buildings,
said Erika Gupta, technology manager
with the Office of Energy Efficiency and
Renewable Energy at the U.S. Depart-
ment of Energy.
Transportation. Moving people
through crowded streets is a chal-
lenge everywhere, though sur-
veys show about half of
all car trips are 3 miles
or less. Autonomous
vehicles and micromo-
bility conveyances like scooters and bikes can reduce the vol-
ume of carbon-spewing vehicles on clogged roadways. Yet
that often means creating dedicated lanes and altering trafc
laws for such vehicles, an issue many municipalities are facing.
“We need a mode for that last mile to transit systems,” said
Brandon Pollak, director for global engagement and strategy
for Bird scooters. “Micromobility infrastructure can improve
safety with bike lanes (and) get them off the sidewalks.
One company, Tortoise, is developing scooters that include
training wheels and a camera and can be returned to a charg-
ing station or base by a remote operator.
Above the road, drones already are being tested for package
and food delivery in areas such as college campuses as another
way to beat street traffic. And larger air taxis that can carry
commuters are on the horizon.
Easing mobility in crowded cities can also impact public
safety. For instance, smart trafc lights can be timed to help
rst responders reach the scene of an accident faster.
Convenience. Many city residents now can obtain li-
censes and other documents, pay bills and get information
either via smartphones or public devices such as kiosks. These
enhancements can save time, eliminate long lines, cut labor
Photo by Picture Plane Ltd., courtesy of Sidewalk Labs
An artist’s rendition of the planned
Sidewalk Labs development on
Quayside along the Lake Ontario
waterfront in Toronto. It’s an
example of the kind of public-private
partnership experts say is needed to
convert to a smart city future.
28 ISE Magazine | www.iise.org/ISEmagazine
Are we ready for smarter cities?
costs and improve the consumer experience. Future applica-
tions may include online voting, though only when security
and transparency issues have been addressed.
Though the benefits of smart technology are evident, there
still are challenges. Several speakers at the Atlanta expo dis-
cussed the remaining steps needed to create interconnected
communities. Each relies on cooperation among technology
experts, public leaders, businesses and residents.
“I dont think the private sector can go it alone, nor can the
public sector,” Betsy Plattenburg, executive director of the
Curiosity Lab smart city test environment, said in an episode
of Problem Solved: The IISE Podcast. “And bringing the two
entities together with very different interests is a nice way to
advance innovation more quickly.
“It’s not just the pursuit of technology itself but how to
harness technology to improve the quality of life,” Debra
Lam, managing director of smart cities and inclusive innova-
tion at Georgia Tech, told ISE. “I look at it as a continuous
improvement process.
“More collaboration is what’s necessary to move forward.
Smart cities’ isnt always the right term. Sometimes that assumes
it’s only a city-led initiative, but it involves a lot more parties.
Cities seek resources, expertise
The technology required to create a connected community
isnt cheap; smaller cities, in particular, can struggle to fit such
costs into their budgets. At the Atlanta expo, leaders from
cities of various sizes told of their challenges and successes in
adopting such technology.
As mayor, our goal is to make sure all basic needs are met,
said Frank Brocato, mayor of Hoover, Alabama, a southern
suburb of Birmingham with a population of about 85,000.
But smaller cities dont always have the ability to do this due
to limitation of resources.
Because machines speak to each other at a much greater
speed compared to humans, 5G wireless technology is the
pipeline needed to transfer data. But 5G is still being imple-
mented in some areas and not widely available outside of ma-
jor urban hubs. Once it is fully in place, “all communities,
regardless of size or political persuasion, can be smart,” Lam
told a panel at the expo.
“Wireless represents the new level of public works that
cities must invest in,” Simrall said. “We know 6G, 7G will
come, and we have to prepare.
The answer, experts say, is creating public-private partner-
The Smart City Expo Atlanta held Sept. 11-13, 2019, brought together leaders in government and industry to discuss the future
connectivity of communities. While internet of things technology makes such connections possible, most speakers agreed
challenges remain in taking the last step from the laboratory into the public square.
Photo by Keith Albertson | IISE
January 2020 | ISE Magazine 29
ships that allow municipalities to offer their greatest asset –
their infrastructure of roads, buildings and utilities – for busi-
nesses to introduce their products to the public in exchange
for the companies’ expertise and hardware. Such collabora-
tion can help even smaller cities integrate technology into
underserved areas. Private sponsors providing 5G capacity
and other technology allowed the suburban Atlanta city of
Peachtree Corners to set up the Curiosity Lab testing envi-
ronment within the city’s infrastructure (see related story on
Page 33).
“Cities as owners of the infrastructure can have a role as
a proving ground for technology to help it graduate into a
public environment,” said Brian Johnson, Peachtree Corners
city manager.
“If we can bring together P3 (public-private partnership)
opportunities to engage public and private needs, P3 can
help attain equity and inclusion,” said Faye DiMassimo of
Faris Oweis, chief instigator for Instigation Protocol,
cited examples of public-private partnerships in the use of
cryptocurrency technology for transportation and voting in
Seoul, Korea, and ways to improve traveler flow in airports
by speeding up security lines.
“It takes risk tolerance, political will and a data mindset,
he told a crowd at the Atlanta expo. “Collaboration between
cities and businesses is needed. The system currently is ineq-
uitable but offers a great opportunity for entrepreneurship.
Another case of such collaboration is The Ray (theray.org),
a sustainable 18-mile stretch of Interstate 85 in west central
Georgia that includes embedded solar panels, charging and
tire pressure stations, roadside ecosystems and IoT connectiv-
ity for vehicle communication.
“Public entities recognize their roles,” The Ray executive
director Allie Kelly said. “Otherwise it takes a lot of differ-
ent companies to be involved. Cities can make infrastructure
available to experts in these fields.
Still another example is in Toronto where Sidewalk Labs
– smart city subsidiary of Alphabet, Google’s parent holding
company – plans to invest $1.3 billion to upgrade a mostly
vacant 12-acre section of industrial waterfront along Lake
Ontario into a connected community (quaysideto.ca). Those
plans include a mixed-use development of residential, retail
and office spaces; extension of a light-rail system; redesigned
streets to reduce car use and promote biking and walking;
and installation of public Wi-Fi and data-collecting sensors
to guide housing and traffic decisions. A third-party research
rms analysis determined the project could create 44,000
jobs and generate $4.3 billion in annual tax revenue.
Digital twin can simulate
smart city enhancements
Before committing resources to smart technology, commu-
nity leaders need to know how it might work in their public
space. One way to test this is through simulation models that
can demonstrate how smart devices interact with a city’s spe-
cic character.
A team of researchers at Georgia Tech discussed such mod-
els at the Smart City Digital Twin Convergence Workshop
held Sept. 16-17, 2019, in Atlanta, attended by representatives
from several U.S. cities. The virtual platforms are designed to
function like simulation in manufacturing by inputting data
to replicate IoT effects on a city’s infrastructure and analyze
the results.
“You take data on mobility, energy, water and build a sys-
tems approach,” Lam said. “It’s a real-time analysis so you
can see in real time the number of cars, pedestrians, traffic
volume happening at a particular intersection.
John Taylor, a professor in Techs School of Civil and Envi-
ronmental Engineering, published the first research paper on
smart city digital twins in 2017 along with Neda Mohamma-
di, the city infrastructure analytics director of the Network
Dynamics Lab at Georgia Tech.
Because a digital twin uses data as it occurs, it can cre-
ate outcomes that vary due to changing conditions. A dig-
ital twin of Georgia Techs campus in Taylor’s lab showed
a building consuming more energy during a stretch of hot
“How do you integrate the data – mobility data and energy
data and water data – how do you combine those together to
create a more holistic view?” Lam said. “The next stage is
how can you utilize data to think more about predictive ana-
lytics – what can happen in the future depending on growth
and other trends, other variables.
Then the third stage is to think about the prescriptive –
modeling what happens if a hurricane hits and how it will it
affect this site, affect mobility and systems scenarios that can
happen, not just future linear predictions. It provides more
flexible frameworks for decision-makers to adapt and really
try to think about a virtual environment that replicates the
physical, then use it for better decision-making.
A quest for security, transparency
The more data that flows between machines, the greater the
risk such information could fall into the wrong hands. That’s
why efforts are needed both to keep information safe and
private and to manage the massive amount of data the IoT
Blockchain technology, originally created to track the use
of cryptocurrency, is seen as an option to secure public data
and enhance other services.
Elliott Chun of Chainhaus, a company specializing in
blockchain, articial intelligence and data science, said ana-
lyzing data such as school attendance figures can help govern-
ments decide where to focus resources.
30 ISE Magazine | www.iise.org/ISEmagazine
Are we ready for smarter cities?
“When you make this kind of information available, it
starts to change the behavior and culture,” he said. “The
challenge is how to build trust between the city and residents,
and blockchain can be a tool to do this.
In particular, voting is a public activity for which security
and traceability are crucial. One company featured at the At-
lanta expo, Voatz, has created a platform in which votes can
be cast from a smartphone using biometric identity verifica-
tion and secured by blockchain technology. Hilary Braseth,
director of product for Voatz, told ISE the system already
has been used in more than 50 U.S. elections, including ex-
panded pilot programs in Denver and Utah in 2019.
Since these initial governmental pilots, we’ve expanded
to ultimately be operational across 29 counties in five states,
Braseth said. “Looking toward (2020), several states are plan-
ning to use Voatz for military/overseas voting, and a few
more are eyeing voters with disabilities.
Yet learning the potential of such technology
and putting it to use effectively is a hurdle faced
by city leaders who may be unfamiliar with these
“Making the ecosystem efficient needs to hap-
pen in the design phase,” said Jay Smith, COO
of Factom, a blockchain innovations company.
Government is slow. You need to start with a
small piece, then roll out improvements from in-
novation laboratories to work into existing sys-
tems. You dont need to blow everything up and
start from scratch. There is incremental value to
starting piece by piece.
“Many still think blockchain is bitcoin. It will
nd its way because its an appropriate solution to
a lot of different things.
Smart cities require funding, which requires
political will,” said Samson Williams of Axes and
Eggs, a bitcoin and cryptocurrency mining com-
pany and blockchain consultant. “If your commu-
nity doesnt trust you, innovation doesnt happen.
You have to be transparent and accountable, and
blockchain can help.
Securing personal privacy is another concern.
With cameras, sensors and other smart objects be-
coming more common, residents must adjust to
being watched by devices at all times.
“Cameras can be beautiful and they can be dan-
gerous,” said Ivo Rook, Sprints senior vice presi-
dent of the internet of things. “We need to design
restrictions from the beginning. But in the end,
we have to ask: Are we willing to give up a little
bit of privacy?
That includes automated personal assistants al-
ready used in homes.
“People are more concerned about privacy,” said James
Leverette, research engineer with the Southern Company.
“We have to tell our consumers, ‘You have control. If you
dont like a voice-controlled device, unplug it or throw it in a
drawer.’ They want to make sure they have control over their
network and do not have to give that up.
Creating inclusion, educating the public
Even as 21st century 5G connectivity comes on line, many
city dwellers still lack broadband internet access. Experts in
Atlanta agreed communities must educate their populations
and ensure connectivity reaches all corners or risk creating
another level of socioeconomic division.
Smart cities are a conduit for social justice,” Lam said dur-
ing the expo panel. “It can empower communities and be
a tool to address inequality. It can allow city managers and
Smart streetlamps from the Southern Company were among the devices on
display at the Smart City Expo Atlanta. The event brought together experts
in smart city technology and featured panel discussions and exhibits of
numerous products and services.
Photo by Keith Albertson | IISE
January 2020 | ISE Magazine 31
mayors access to better data to address inequality.
In particular, students without internet access may be un-
able to log on for online learning, a practice now common-
place in affluent areas.
“You need to provide connectivity beyond downtown to
underserved areas to help students,” said Charisse Stokes, ex-
ecutive director of TechMGM.
“People cant fathom what infra-
structure you have to change, and
how you orchestrate that together
is crucial,” said Steve LeFrancois,
CTO of Enterprise Solutions, Pub-
lic Sector, for Verizon. “The same
policies and procedures have been in
place for decades, so the training and
education of the public are crucial.
Clayton Banks is CEO of Silicon
Harlem, a social venture seeking
to bridge the tech gap in that New
York community where 40% of resi-
dents have no broadband access. Like
many at the Atlanta event, he said such enhancements cant be
made available only to those who can afford them.
“Cities are not 100% prepared to be smart,” Banks said.
A technology-enabled city needs to take into consideration
who lives in the city and how the infrastructure creates eq-
uity rather than a divide. Its a wonderful opportunity if it can
be designed for equity. ... (But) you cannot be a smart city
if someone is not connected. If connectivity isnt across the
board, people feel left out.
To create trust and have residents buy into the advance-
ments offered, public officials must use their financial re-
sources wisely.
“Your budget is more than numbers – it represents your
values,” said Michael Nutter, former mayor of Philadelphia,
who noted how many cities are “struggling with disrupt-
ers” such as electric bikes, scooters
and other technology that require
thoughtful policies.
The reason why cities exist is to
provide services. You need data to
do this properly.
“Your budget is your moral and
social contract with your commu-
nity,” said Maurice Henderson, di-
rector of government partnerships
for Bird, manufacturer of electric
scooters. “Transportation equity is
needed and new mobility options
that give access to people in diverse
communities. It can be an equalizer, a democratizer.
Once those needs are met, connecting residents to services
in a faster, better way could help level social playing fields.
Lam said blending technology with the human element is the
key to making cities smarter sooner.
“It’s a process,” she told ISE. “Cities have done a lot in the
physical environment and infrastructure with sensors, street-
lights, solar. We’ve made a lot of progress in virtual and digi-
‘Its not just the pursuit of technology
itself but how to harness technology to
improve the quality of life. I look at it
as a continuous improvement process.
– Debra Lam, Georgia Tech
managing director of smart cities and
inclusive innovation
2020 and Beyond: A look toward the horizon
With the third decade of the 21st century looming ahead, ISE is launching a series of stories to peer toward the horizon and see what
wonders await in the world of industrial and systems engineering.
In coming months, you’ll see articles from experts in various ISE fields on what innovations, disruptions and changes they foresee
in the years ahead. This month, we feature smart cities and connectivity. In February, we’ll examine the future of healthcare systems
and the impact on patient care. In subsequent issues, we’ll delve into different topic areas with the same idea: What do the problem-
solvers of today see in their crystal balls for tomorrow?
We welcome your input and ideas. Share your views in a letter to the editor at kalbertson@iise.org or join the conversation in
Connect at connect.iise.org.
2020 and BEYOND
32 ISE Magazine | www.iise.org/ISEmagazine
Are we ready for smarter cities?
tal infrastructure but what we havent done as much is think
about integration of it all into the social infrastructure. That is
the third level, how people relate with the physical infrastruc-
ture and move seamlessly between layers. Its still very sepa-
rate but we have to connect it at the very end. That involves
the level of literacy and application of what we are trying to
accomplish or do rather than just trying to be fancy.
Adapting to this new reality may take time. In a recent epi-
sode of Problem Solved: The IISE Podcast (podcast.iise.org), Plat-
tenburg likened today’s transition to autonomous devices to
the 20th century adjustment to self-operating elevators that
did not require an operator.
Today, all of us would think that’s ridiculous if we got on
an elevator and somebody else pushed the buttons,” she said.
“We’re going to be slow to adapt to that and feel comfortable
with that.
Plattenburg cited surveys that showed while a majority of
younger people are more comfortable riding in autonomous
vehicles, older generations are less trusting of the technology
and still need more convincing.
“I think it’s going to be a generational thing,” she said.
“It’s going to take us a while to be comfortable with the new
technology because we’re giving up control.
Yet the plus side of people being able to depend on automa-
tion to get around and live better as they grow older could
help bridge that acceptance gap.
“I think as people see how it will change their lives for the
better and not just in terms of control, they’ll see they have
more control over their lives,” Plattenburg said. “I think its
baby steps.
Smart city gadgets connect with tomorrow
Here are a few of the high-tech devices displayed at the Smart City Expo in Atlanta in September that could be part of an urban setting
in the near future.
The Southern Company’s Smart Home on display at the
Smart City Expo Atlanta included centralized temperature
controls; smart light bulbs and outlets that save energy;
a kitchen featuring a combination smoke and carbon
monoxide alarm, indoor camera and programmable
Behmor coffee maker; smart locks and a doorbell
camera; solar panels; and an electric vehicle charging
station. “Younger buyers are showing greater interest
in connectivity, it’s very important to them with 5G. And
a lot of those 55 and older also are tech savvy,” said
James Leverette, research engineer with the Southern
Photo by Keith Albertson | IISE
Valqari offered a demonstration of its smart drone delivery
mailbox system at the Curiosity Lab opening Sept. 11 in
Peachtree Corners, Georgia. The system includes delivery of
items dropped into a smart mailbox that opens on delivery
and locks afterward. The two-way communication technology
allows for delivery of packages, traditional mail and parcel
products and eliminates the risk of damage and theft.
Photo courtesy of Valqari
IKE is a maker of
interactive kiosks
that can be placed in
high-traffic areas. They
provide visitors with a
touchscreen offering
information on dining,
shopping, lodging, arts
and culture, attractions,
government services,
parks, employment and
transit information. They
also offer emergency
communications, are
ADA-compliant and
designed to fit within the
aesthetics of a city.
Photo by Keith Albertson | IISE
January 2020 | ISE Magazine 33
On first glance, a small city in the Atlanta sub-
urbs only seven years old hardly seems the site of
a high-tech revolution. Yet Peachtree Corners, an
upscale town of 45,000 residents about 20 miles
northeast of Atlanta, has staked its claim as a Deep
South version of Silicon Valley.
The city recently invested money and infrastructure to
create Curiosity Lab, a high-tech environment for testing
driverless vehicles and other smart city technology. It in-
cludes a 1.5-mile autonomous vehicle test track of dedi-
cated lanes, plus short-range communications units such
as video cameras, smart traffic lights and lighting able to
transmit data to a control center. It is all powered by 5G
wireless and 1G of fiber optic connections.
“We’re trying to create a technology sandbox where any-
body can come and play,” Betsy Plattenburg, executive di-
rector of Curiosity Lab, told ISE. “We’re providing certain
toys, or anyone is welcome to bring their own to try them
The area incorporates some 500 acres with 7,500 em-
ployees and about 1,000 residents. The roadway through
a technology park offers natural obstacles such as curves,
trees and a 13% grade aimed at giving autonomous vehicles
a taste of real-world traffic conditions.
There are a lot of mobility closed courses that are popu-
lar, where you can go in and do all kinds of testing, but
theyre closed, they’re not a real world environment,” City
Manager Brian Johnson said. “When technology graduates
from a controlled laboratory environment, like a closed
driving course, where does it go to get integrated into the
real world but not in an environment that is so complicated
that it isnt safe?
“We created a crawl-walk-run place where it can gradu-
ate from the closed course. ... You can keep it secure and
graduate from there, and now you are ready for midtown.
One such vehicle began making daily rounds last fall:
Olli, an autonomous electric minibus that holds up to eight
passengers on weekday runs that includes stops at offices,
hotels, city hall and a local brewpub (see accompanying ar-
The city debuted its facilities on Sept. 11, 2019, to coin-
cide with the Smart City Expo Atlanta. After local and state
officials greeted a couple hundred invitees, students at the
nearby Paul Duke STEM High School piloted two drones
carrying a ceremonial ribbon to be cut.
At the demo, visitors rode Olli around the city hall park-
ing lot, watched a Valqari delivery drone drop a “smart
package” into a connected parcel box and saw a demonstra-
tion of a Tortoise scooter monitored by remote control.
The lab includes a 25,000-square-foot technology incu-
bator that includes a coding boot camp and classroom space
for students, including researchers from Georgia Tech, a
project partner.
“We realized this isnt just mobility, there are a lot of
smart city components here, too,” Johnson said. “The street
of the future is what we have here. It’s where the light poles
A ‘sandbox’ for IoT testing, integration
Curiosity Lab near Atlanta offers a test environment for connectivity
By Keith Albertson
The city of Peachtree Corners, Georgia, created the Curiosity Lab smart city test environment as an economic development
Photo by David Brandt | IISE
34 ISE Magazine | www.iise.org/ISEmagazine
A ‘sandbox’ for IoT testing, integration
Olli the driverless shuttle learns on the road
Olli, an autonomous electric shuttle, began
running a daily route along the Curiosity Lab
test track in Peachtree Corners, Georgia,
in October 2019. The 3D-printed minibus
can carry up to eight passengers and reach
speeds up to 25 mph.
Its name is Olli. It’s smart, but like any youngster with a lot to learn, Olli expands its
knowledge and experience in a real-world classroom setting.
Olli is an autonomous electric vehicle created by Local Motors and is being tested
in various cities. It recently was on exhibit at the Smart City Expo Atlanta and at the
debut of the Curiosity Lab test environment in suburban Peachtree Corners.
A few weeks later, the minibus began regular daily runs along the lab’s 1.5-mile
dedicated track along a technology office park, interacting daily with motorists and
Though a safety steward remains at the ready to pilot the shuttle by joystick through
any snags, the goal is to help Olli “learn” the habits of human drivers while navigating
inclines and curves on its journey, the goal being to work out any bugs before it
enters into busier traffic. It is seen as a viable transit option in locales such as college
campuses, business parks, airports and military bases.
“We have some great opportunities to see how Olli is going to operate in these
conditions,” said Marcilyn “Marci” Patterson, fleet project manager for Local Motors.
“But we do have those safety stewards on board, so if there are issues to see whether
Olli can adjust or not, it will still be a safe ride for our riders.”
From October through January, Olli began its daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. workday, moving along at 5-7 mph, though it is capable of speeds up
to 25 mph. It completes a circuit of the 3-mile route in about 15 to 20 minutes while making regular stops at offices, hotels and a brewpub.
“We like to think of Olli as a toddler, and Olli is learning just like a toddler would learn, by experience,” said Betsy Plattenburg, Curiosity
Lab’s executive director. “Olli is learning every day, different things on different days.”
Jeremiah Trnka, a Local Motors safety steward and trainer, credits the Curiosity Lab course with helping the shuttle build its “muscle
memory” by learning on the road.
“This is a really amazing space that has been created here,” he said. “This is really a great way for us to get Olli out there in the real world
and do some real-world testing by dealing with traffic, pedestrians and all these sorts of things.”
Safety steward Thomas Clifford explained how Olli operates in both “human mode” with the steward in charge and autonomous “robot
mode.” The shuttle includes two GPS antennas, six cameras, five radar (sensing sound) and six lidar (sensing light) mounted on the
front and back. They are able to “see” road conditions, obstacles, pedestrians and approaching vehicles in a 360-degree panorama. That
information is fed into Olli’s “brain” and applied to the algorithms that guide its decision-making.
Inside, Olli features a monitor showing the programmed route, brake and controls that the steward can use to switch between modes and
pilot the vehicle when needed. The boxy 13-foot shuttle can carry up to eight passengers who can see out on all sides in a glass-enclosed
During a ride around the course, Patterson pointed out that the steward takes control only when Olli enters regular traffic lanes either due
to road construction or intersection crossovers. Though the vehicle can mostly control its own behavior, the unpredictability of human drivers
is the X factor for which autonomous devices must learn to react. And while Olli learns how to cope with traffic, flesh-and-blood motorists
must adjust to driverless cars as well.
“We can gain a familiarity with how Olli handles various traffic situations,” Trnka said. “Olli is programmed to wait for a clear path in order
to go across (an intersection.) Well, people frequently get impatient and don’t want to stop and let us go through, so sometimes we have to
play a little bit of a dance with the other drivers.
“One of the huge benefits to Olli being out here is that it gives us that real-world experience and it only makes the software better in the
long run.”
Local Motors builds Olli via 3D-printing technology in local microfactories rather than large plants. That provides jobs in those communities
and makes it easier to adapt to new vehicles as they change.
For more, visit the company’s website, localmotors.com. You can watch a video of Olli’s ride through the Peachtree Corners Curiosity Lab
course at www.iise.org.
Photo by David Brandt | IISE
January 2020 | ISE Magazine 35
can talk to each other, can talk to the cars, can talk to all the
traffic signals, can talk to the phones of the people walking
on the sidewalk – it can talk to all of them.
As a result, several companies already have expressed in-
terest in using the facilities to test their technology.
“We realize what we have here is the ability to create
this innovation around smart cities, IoT and mobility and
bring all these players together who might not meet each
other otherwise,” Plattenburg said. “We have interest from
all over the world from people who want to be part of the
The project is the kind of public-private partnership
experts say is crucial to deploying such technology on a
wide scale. The labs 5G wireless connectivity is provided
by sponsor partner Sprint, which offered its engineering
expertise to Peachtree Corners.
“I believe (this kind of project) has a lot of merits and de-
serves thought and encouragement,” said Ivo Rook, senior
vice president for the internet of things with Sprint. “It puts
everything under a single policy and allows the operation
of technology on public roads. Its that type of project we
need to create, not just the technology infrastructure itself.
Peachtree Corners developed Curiosity Lab as an eco-
nomic development tool to attract high-tech firms. In do-
ing so, the city hopes to gain from the exposure as visitors
come to test devices and spend money on food, lodging and
office space.
Despite that investment, the city is not charging compa-
nies to use its facilities. It also does not require intellectual
property rights for any technology created, respects propri-
etary information and has liability insurance to cover any
“We facilitate innovation; we’re not the innovators,
Plattenburg said on Problem Solved: The IISE Podcast. “We
provide a tech playground for people to bring their tech
toys to, then learn something and go off into the world.
“When you combine all those things in a living labora-
tory environment in a major technology park, with people
living and working here, we dont think it exists anywhere
in the world,” Johnson said.
To learn more, visit curiositylabptc.com.
Peachtree Corners featured a scale model of its Curiosity Lab
test environment in the exhibit hall of the Smart City Expo in
Atlanta held Sept. 11-13, 2019.
Photo by Keith Albertson | IISE
An image from a promotional video for Curiosity Lab shows a Valqari delivery drone and the autonomous electric vehicle Olli, at
left, in front of Peachtree Corners City Hall.
Photo courtesy of Curiosity Lab