Atlanta moving in the right direction for a smart future

Atlanta moving in the right direction for a smart future

2022-07-11T05:51:57-04:00May 26th, 2022|Atlanta, Technology & Innovation|

Writer: Ryan Gandolfo

Atlanta technology2 min read May 2022 — Atlanta has been at the forefront in adopting technology and innovations to build smarter communities in the city and across Georgia. From top-level city leadership to savvy research teams in the state’s top universities, Atlanta is making safe and sustainable solutions a priority in the region’s growing communities.

Georgia Smart Communities Challenge, a competitive program organized by Georgia Tech’s Partnership for Inclusive Innovation (PIN), provides support for different levels of government via funding, access to technical assistance, expert advice and a broad community network. The program is gearing up for its fifth class this summer, which will include “smart” projects in 20 communities across the state.

“Georgia Smart showcases that a community of any size can be smart as long as there are applicable integrated tools and technology that can be used to address critical solutions,” Debra Lam, founding executive director at PIN told Focus: during a video call on Tuesday.

The organization is working to establish Atlanta as a technology capital on the eastern coast by bringing communities, entrepreneurs, researchers and other key stakeholders together to build a more sustainable, equitable and tech-driven Georgia.

To date, PIN has served 16 communities in the Peach State and implemented 174 technologies ranging from traffic signal sensors, sea-level sensors and IoT devices, according to a community research impact sheet provided by PIN. The projects have been focused on connecting communities by improving internet accessibility, collecting data to create safer sidewalks and routes for school buses, as well as planning for autonomous vehicles.

Aside from the work that Lam’s team is doing at PIN to collaborate with communities, Cynthia Curry and her team at Metro Atlanta Chamber are also helping to create smart city ecosystems across the metro Atlanta area. In addition, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens is at the top of a long list of forward-thinking leaders in the public sector. “Our new mayor Andre Dickens is a Georgia Tech alumnus, and a major leader at TechBridge. He is very fluent and comfortable in the smart city space, so we are primed to work well with this next generation of leaders, especially from the mayor level and down,” said Lam.

Commissioner of Atlanta’s Department of Public Works Al Wiggins is also focused on making the department smarter by the effective use of technology. He recently invited remote-operated robotic mowers company RC Mowers to demonstrate how their equipment can address labor shortages and boost productivity for the department.

“We’re always looking for ways to provide services more efficiently, especially with the challenges of recruiting staff. The lawnmowers came into the discussion as a way to supplement the labor as well as an opportunity to increase the level of maintenance without the same staffing requirements,” Wiggins told Focus: over the phone on Tuesday afternoon.

While the department’s robotic mower initiative is still in the exploratory phase, Wiggins highlights the need to find safe and cost-effective solutions using technology. “We are still vetting the mowers and finding areas where we can use them most effectively. We have four landfills that are still active and looking at utilizing the mowers in those areas rather than using a standard three-man crew.”

These initiatives take an extended time to implement as new concepts, and Lam pointed out that the challenge going forward is institutionalizing these smart city projects.

“What’s really great is moving smart cities out of the pilot phase. There’s a lot of flash in the beginning with the ribbon-cutting ceremonies, but what’s important is how it’s incorporated and institutionalized, so these technologies are really embedded in the community. That’s where we’re talking to department directors who operate and implement the projects, and you can see from the university perspective how it feeds into the curriculum. Much of what we do is experimental learning and developing the next generation of leaders,” said Lam.

And the region is already beginning to see how these projects can be further implemented. Two hours south of Atlanta, the City of Warner Robins has installed a new camera system to combat crime and increase public safety. The cameras were developed by Flock Safety, a tech company whose founder graduated from Georgia Tech, Lam said.

The partnership between Flock Safety and Warner Robbins speaks to the expansive network that Lam and her team help foster.

“By connecting these startups, corporations and stakeholders, it’s adding to a much more holistic conversation and proving that any community can be smart and address their needs in a different way,” said Lam.