Every thriving city and town in America hopes to improve traffic and pedestrian safety while reducing congestion. Pedestrian deaths increased at a record rate in 2020 in the U.S., even as there was a dramatic decrease in vehicle miles traveled due to the pandemic.
Peachtree Corners, a growing family-oriented suburb north of Atlanta, has 50,000 residents and 50,000 workers with plenty of commercial office space and hotels. It appears to have a leg up on other communities because of its strong smart city tech tradition.
The city announced Tuesday a collaboration with Qualcomm and professional services giant Jacobs on a deployment of cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) technology. The C-V2X deployment will cost the city $66,000 as part of a $4 million outlay for overall infrastructure and buildings for the city's Curiosity Lab innovation hub, a non-profit first envisioned in 2014. The funds are paid with city's commercial tax revenues funneled through the city’s Curiosity Lab. (There is no residential property tax.)*
C-V2X communication will work with city vehicles at first with onboard units (OBUs) and roadside units (RSUs), operating over 5.9 GHz ITS spectrum and connections to the city’s fiber infrastructure, not over the network of any commercial carrier. The city’s fiber will be connected to RSUs, while vehicles with OBUs will be able to talk to other vehicles similarly equipped as well as RSUs over wireless connections.
In addition to the C-V2X communications capability, Qualcomm and collaborators issued a video that shows vehicles will be able to get traffic updates and weather information through cellular connections on a separate network such as 5G. The RSUs could also be used to receive weather or traffic data from the city's traffic cameras and the RSU could then send that data to a connected vehicle.
Pedestrian safety top of mind
Brandon Branham, assistant city manager, told reporters that two fleet vehicles have OBUs installed for rollout, while fire trucks and paramedic vehicles recently had them installed. Eventually, the city could install OBUs on all 350 city vehicles, along with vehicles provided by volunteers from the community. The city has already deployed five RSUs and is finalizing configurations that should be completed in a week, he told Fierce Electronics.
An autonomous shuttle will go live on the C-V2X network in the fall.
“From the city’s perspective, this will make our lives better,” Branham said. “Metro Atlanta’s traffic is one of our biggest headaches. We’ve seen this an investment for now and the future.”
In 2017, the city set up a citizen-based pedestrian safety task force focused on crossings of roadways. There has been one pedestrian facility in the past year. “However, we are discovering through our smart camera deployments there are near misses and that is what we are working against,” Branham said.
The city is in the process of building an 11-mile trail system that crosses highways and roadways. “We are working to ensure those crossings are going to be as safe as possible,” Branham said. “We know distracted driving is only increasing.”
The entire U.S. experienced a record rate of increase in pedestrian fatalities in 2020, hitting 6,721 pedestrian deaths, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.
Curiosity Lab tradition
The city along with the Curiosity Lab innovation center has already been helping oversee an unusual collaboration of innovators and technology giants on smart tech.
Curiosity Lab has a 1.5-mile test and demo track for real-world testing of emerging tech, including 5G-enabled autonomous vehicle testing.
A host of IoT-related companies such as Bosch and Cisco are already involved in implementing smart tech with sensors. T-Mobile has also deployed 5G in town.
There has also already been a successful autonomous shuttle vehicle test and expanding that service from offices to hotels and the town center will rely on C-V2X as well.
Qualcomm sees the C-V2X rollout as a means to optimize traffic flows while making streets safer. “This tech is surely going to be very unique in terms of public safety and…intelligent traffic management,” said Sanjeet Pandit, global head of smart cities for Qualcomm.
Praveen Singh, director of business development at Qualcomm, said in addition to other communities and technology firms, insurance providers will be interested in the data generated with the launch. “They will see how people are driving and how to improve it,” he said.
Vehicle manufacturers are now developing C-V2X, and Ford has already gone public saying it will implement C-V2X, Singh said.
When asked about potential interference from Wi-Fi with 5.9 GHz spectrum used in the C-V2X network, Singh said there is active discussion within the U.S. Department of Transportation and interoperability forums on ways that essential safety messages get through.
Pandit said the city may recoup some of its C-V2X deployment costs through advertising on video displays seen by pedestrians, a concept tried in multiple cities. “There are ways to provide services and find monetization, so this doesn’t have to be a drain on the city budget,” he said. “Some of it is going to be sunken costs for cities, but we have to make sure it’s a win-win for citizens” derived from better safety and the city’s ability to provide fleet management.
Ultimately, Branham said C-V2X and related smart city initiatives are part of a broader economic development initiative. Two companies with 450 workers have said they want to be here for the innovations the city is providing.
“In a creative environment like this, we are opening doors for companies to move here,” he said.
While the economic development potential is one reason many cities seek new smart city tech, it has not always been easy for cities to convince citizens to make the investment.
“Nobody wants to be the first to implement this [C-V2X] technology, but Peachtree has really leaned in to take the first step forward,” said Phil Boness, director of growth and strategies at Jacobs.
*This story was updated with the addition of a $66,000 C-V2X deployment cost.