Why Atlanta wants to test driverless cars

Thu, 2017-02-23 13:58 -- Doug Peeples

The future of urban transportation is changing, and it's happening faster than you might think. Connected cars and driverless cars, buses and shuttles are gradually showing up on the radar of city leaders and planners as tech and car companies continuously roll out new technologies that make them smarter and safer – and more amenable to urban mobility. The city of Atlanta, ranked as one of the most traffic-plagued cities in the world, has good reason to want to be ahead of the curve. — Doug Peeples

Atlanta's leaders have been considering a variety of projects to make the city smarter, more livable and connected – from smart streetlights and WiFi to expanding its fiber network and traffic signal upgrades. It also was among the first cities chosen by Council Lead Partner AT&T to partner in its Smart Cities Framework intended to help cities use IoT solutions to do a better job of serving their citizens.

And like many other cities, Atlanta is keen on self-driving cars. Although the city missed out on being selected as one 10 U.S. Department of Transportation testing and information sharing sites for automated vehicles in January, the city has asked for proposals from several companies to help it conduct a driverless car demonstration program on North Avenue by September.

According to the Associated Press, if Atlanta's demonstration project gets the green light it will be one of the largest urban areas to host self-driving car technology testing. Quoted in the AP article, Atlanta official Faye DiMassimo – who is associated with the North Avenue project – said the goal is to demonstrate how a self-driving vehicle would handle real-world traffic conditions.

The first step would be to install sensors and other devices that would allow the cars to interact with traffic signals and be alerted to red lights or hazardous road conditions. Cameras would provide views of traffic flow and traffic data would be analyzed. The test cars would have drivers along for the ride in the event they needed to take over the controls.

City officials do recognize that security is an issue with so much data coming from the cars, sensors and other devices. In an earlier report, Mayor Kasim Reed said the city would work closely with the Georgia Institute of Technology on security.

The project also will gauge public acceptance and the practicality of self-driving vehicles sharing the road with traditional vehicles driven by people. Paul Brubaker, president and CEO of the Alliance for Transportation Innovation, noted that Atlanta is a practical choice for the demonstration project because residents of the traffic-clogged city may be more appreciative of technology that will alleviate the problem.

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Doug Peeples is a Portland, Oregon-based writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.