A 'living lab' for connected vehicles

A partnership between two Georgia testbeds for connected and automated vehicles will soon give transportation innovators access to fiber optics and 5G networks to study how cars of the future perform on urban and rural roadways.

The Ray, a living lab that uses an 18-mile stretch of I-85 in southwest Georgia, is working with the city of Peachtree Corners, which is opening a 1.5-mile autonomous vehicle test track as part of its Curiosity Lab on Sept. 11. While Peachtree Corners has been working since 2014 with the Georgia Transportation Department (GDOT) to study smart highway solutions, the city’s lab will focus on slower speeds and encounters with pedestrians -- elements not usually found on the interstate.

Peachtree Corners City Manager Brian Johnson said the purpose of the lab is to help technological development through the walk phase of a crawl-walk-run process. “We’re building an intermediate living laboratory for technology that graduates from the closed, isolated, controlled environment and integrates that into the real world but in a way that is manageable,” he said.

Curiosity Lab also encompasses a 500-acre commercial park with a network operations center, smart poles, dedicated short-range communications units, dedicated fiber and a 25,000-square foot technology incubator. The entire lab is supported by 5G and Enhanced 4G LTE wireless infrastructure.

“All of it is going to be tied in through the city’s own fiber-optic network that we own into a network operations center so all of this will be and under video surveillance,” Johnson said. “[From] one point you can watch the entire track, you can control different technology, you can collect data, you can integrate with other testers all at one location, which happens to be a large room inside of our technology incubator.”

That connectivity is crucial, said Allie Kelly, executive director of The Ray, which is named after the section of the interstate dedicated to Ray C. Anderson, a businessman who championed green initiatives.

“When you’re trying to create a system of connected vehicle for roadside equipment data strings, having the fiber backbone is the most important piece,” Kelly said.

Another crucial element is a way to manage and make meaning out of the data, she added. To that end, The Ray announced July 16 that it is working with GDOT to test a platform that will manage the data that roadside equipment collects from connected vehicles. 

The CIRRUS by Panasonic data management platform will give GDOT access to a vehicle-to-everything data ecosystem that receives real-time, location-specific data along The Ray and transmits critical roadway data between state transportation systems and vehicles equipped with V2X technology.

“A connected car is projecting out its datasets once every 10 seconds. The data is not immediately useful: This is my latitude, this is my longitude, this is my speed, this is my heading, this is vehicle type,” Kelly said. “But there are patterns that are meaningful in that data.”

For example, seeing in real time that 100 cars in the same area have turned on their windshield wipers, 50 of those cars have lost traction with the road and two cars have deployed airbags, managers will know there is inclement weather causing hydroplaning and an accident. That meaningful information can be routed to the cars themselves or pushed out through dynamic signs and other types of community alerts, Kelly said.

“We are building that with Georgia DOT at The Ray, and Peachtree Corners’ data from their connected vehicle roadside infrastructure, that data can be shared with our data management system, and we can help Peachtree Corners have some informed insight into that data strength,” Kelly said.

The partnership between The Ray and Peachtree Corners was announced at the end of June, and a potential way the city can help The Ray is through testing of solar panels on roadways. The Ray needs clearance from GDOT and the Federal Highway Administration to test on I-85, but the city owns all of its infrastructure and therefore doesn’t need permission from other entities. Right now, The Ray is testing solar panels that affix to roadways in a parking lot at the Georgia Visitor Information Center to gather data to present to GDOT and FHA regarding the panels’ safety and effectiveness.

Peachtree Corners is offering a section of the lab to The Ray to build a solar roadway that would connect to car charging stations at City Hall, which sits within the 1.5-mile section of the test track. “We will create a situation where you can drive an electric vehicle over the solar station that is generating the electricity for the charger,” Johnson said.

The city, which is home to about 45,000 residents and 45,000 jobs, does not charge for use of the lab or technology and has no interest in ownership stakes in intellectual property related to tested technology.

“This is an economic development play for us,” Johnson said. For instance, organizations looking to use the facility for one day will likely eat in a city restaurant, while multi-day stays mean hotel bookings and people taking advantage of the city’s entertainment and shopping.

“We could end up having companies that could relocate here or expand their facilities here,” he said. “Ultimately, we could get more people moving here, more families buying houses here, more activity in our downtown -- all the things that you want from economic development.”

Editor's note: This article was changed Aug. 13 to include details of the data management platform. 

About the Author

Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.

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