The Smart City Podcast

How Peachtree Corners Is Creating the Blueprint for Sustainable Smart Cities and Mobility

September 06, 2022 The Smart Cities Team at ARC Advisory Group Season 7 Episode 13
The Smart City Podcast
How Peachtree Corners Is Creating the Blueprint for Sustainable Smart Cities and Mobility
Show Notes Transcript

Peachtree Corners, Georgia is a vibrant suburb of Atlanta and is one of the first cities in the U.S. to be powered by government-owned smart city connected infrastructure and 5G. The forward-thinking municipality, which is home to some of the world’s most disruptive technology developers and serves as the heart of what’s being referred to as “Silicon Orchard,” began to embrace a leadership position with regard to smart cities in America, (which includes establishing its “Curiosity Lab” incubator ecosystem) originally as an economic development initiative that has since transformed Peachtree Corners into a premier innovation hub of the southeast United States. It serves as a blueprint of how to build out a “city street of the future” and more complete smart city ecosystems in the U.S. specifically. Peachtree Corners exemplifies how to optimally create and nurture deeper partnership between the government/public sector and the private sector/technology industry/business to make the smart city vision a reality.

Join Brandon Branham, CPM, Peachtree Corners' Assistant City Manager/Chief Technology Officer for an enlightening discussion on these fascinating efforts

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If you have an intriguing, thought provoking topic you'd like to discuss on our podcast, please contact our host Jim Frazer

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The Smart Cities Podcast - Featuring Brandon Branham - Peachtree Corners’ Curiosity Lab

SUMMARY KEYWORDS

vehicle, Peachtree corners, applications, city, roadway, autonomous vehicles, connected, smart, test, technology, curiosity, network, devices, lab, building, companies, community, transportation, cities, autonomous

SPEAKERS

Jim Frazer, Brandon Branham

 

ARC Advisory Introduction  

Broadcasting from Boston, Massachusetts the Smart Cities podcast is the only podcast dedicated to all things smart cities. The podcast is the creation of ARC Advisory Group Smart City practice. ARC advises leading companies, municipalities and governments on technology trends and market dynamics that affect their business and quality of life in their cities. To engage further please like and share our podcasts or reach out directly on Twitter at Smart City viewpoints or on our website at WWW .arcweb.com/ industries/ smart-cities

 

Jim Frazer  

Welcome again to another episode of the smart city Podcast. Today I'm thrilled to be joined by Brandon Branham, the CTO of the curiosity lab and assistant city manager of Peachtree corners GA. Welcome, Brandon, how are you today?

 

Brandon Branham  

Wow, thanks for having me, Jim.

 

Jim Frazer  

All right. Hey, it's great, great to have you. Let's jump right in. Let's just get started with Can you tell us a little bit about yourself about your organization and how you came to this interesting space?

 

Brandon Branham  

Yeah, thanks. Actually not a native Georgian. So originally from Kansas go chiefs there that it's it is football season. But been in local government 16 years now going on 17. Starting in the actually the new city movement in Georgia, back in 2005. We saw a movement in Georgia for new city creation from local getting more local control for your residents and so started in city of Sandy Springs just to the west of us here in Peachtree corners and then when the city of Peachtree corners came into incorporation in 2012 had the opportunity to come over and start the city from ground zero. So I've been here since the beginning. You know very fortunate to be in a place like Peachtree corners because really unique history was created developed in the late 60s early 70s by Georgia Tech grad turned developer who got tired of seeing the brain drain leave Georgia for high tech jobs. So it came way out here we're about 20 miles north of downtown Atlanta, started speculatively building Georgia's first technology office park to recruit technology companies and very successful, huge history and innovation. The modem, the Hayes modem was actually invented right here in Peachtree corners, the color printer, and Scientific Atlanta, which is now Cisco was founded five buildings down from where I'm sitting right now. So I have this really rich history of innovation. Fast forward a few decades Peachtree corners Incorporated, we started getting operational legs under us from providing services, and started looking at ways to drive business and economic development growth and wanted to lean on that history of innovation as kind of our path. And so when did our research went out to the market and said, what's missing out in the technology world and led us was kind of that intermediate step for the growth and scale of technology. There was lots of good close glass courses and testing facilities, you have one in Florida sun tracks, we mentioned that one in Sydney, up in Michigan, a few of those, but there wasn't a good intermediate step for this technology to take place before it scaled into like a really urban place like New York or Austin or Dallas. So we, we took our journey into developing a living laboratory for emerging technologies. So we, in this technology office, Park created a space on the public roadway that companies could come use public infrastructure, work with the government work with other private entities in our innovation center to test, develop, deploy, or even demonstrate some of these newer technologies in the smart mobility space, or IoT or smart cities. Wanted to really be that facilitator of this industry and how we move and grow smart city for cities and states across the globe.

 

Jim Frazer  

So let's fascinating. So when did the curiosity lab actually launch?

 

Brandon Branham  

Yeah, so we opened in September of 2019. Alright, great time to open right just right before pandemic. But so we you know, opened up the infrastructure we have a full fiber connected roadway that companies can use we partnered with T Mobile from a 5g perspective. So we are a 5g live site, all three bands so companies can test . They actually staff people here on site and our innovation center to help companies interact with their network. And then over the last going on three years, actually, they are coming up pretty soon, we've been able to help just over 60 companies test in our facility and start and grow businesses through our incubator program.

 

Jim Frazer  

So when you when you envision this amount, and I'm thinking about the current situation, where there are vertical applications that you focused upon, is it was it all wireless, or transportation or energy or something else? How did you go about that process?

 

Brandon Branham  

Yeah. Obviously, being in the public realm, being a public into the transportation in a metropolitan area is going to be a key focus for us. But if you think about our advancements in transportation and autonomous vehicles, it's not just the vehicle itself, it's the infrastructure that supports it, whether it is the wireless network, or its smart idea systems, such as video analytics, or LIDAR. We've got a fully V2X outfitted facility. So it's pulling all of those pieces together. So it's hard to say it was one narrow spatch. That thought up curiosity lab actually started around autonomous vehicles. We had a council member who was dead set on this is the future autonomous vehicles are coming, we've got to do something about it. How do we react to this, but led to crazy conversations with lots of companies of Hey, could you do this? Could we do this? And so we see yourself as being our job is to say, yes, that's been my directive from our boss. So

 

Jim Frazer  

well, autonomous vehicles and connected vehicles. That's one application are there are there before we delve into the technologies that you're supporting? And in particular, companies? Are there other applications? I mean, for me, energy comes to mind, or there could be others. But can you speak on some of those other applications?

 

Brandon Branham  

Yeah, thinking of energy, we have a 25,000 square foot Innovation Center. That is also a testbed for companies. So we're doing things in the smart building energy management of indoor building systems. One of the companies that relocated here, because of curiosity lab was ASHRAE, which is the American Standard for heating and refrigeration, air engineers, their job is to set policy for indoor air. And so we work closely with them, they actually took a 1971 building and made it completely net zero. So really fascinating project. And so working with them and other companies to manage energy usage, as we begin our electrification strategy for EV. And the public infrastructure for electric vehicles, looking at sustainable methods that using solar off grid.

 

Jim Frazer  

Before we leave energy, I believe I noticed one of your local utilities being a partner to what, what are who are they where do they involve it?

 

Brandon Branham  

Yeah, so Georgia Power, largest utility in the state of Georgia. They saw an opportunity early on with us, twofold. One was the energy that's going to be needed to deploy all of these devices to focus on electrification as they get ready for EB. So they actually designated curiosity lab as their innovation corridor. So they own over a million streetlights across the state, they needed a place to put some of these applications in the real world environment to test and learn from it's the streetlight really is probably the greatest asset and smart city deployments currently. So working close with them because they own operate, maintain million plus lights, and they're a part of Southern Company, which oversees three different states. So having him as a part of this has been integral and how we've been able to advance the energy side of the house.

 

Jim Frazer  

Okay. Well, I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about electrification, you mentioned that what, what efforts do you have around electrification?

 

Brandon Branham  

Yeah, so last year, through some of our partnerships, in the lab, out of curiosity lab, we actually opened Metro Atlanta's largest charging hub with both DC fast charging as well as level two. So we've got 16 350 Kw chargers, in the core of our downtown. So that was working with Tesla and Electrify America to bring that into the heart of our downtown's, you think of you know, activity for cities? Charging can be a play to draw people because they're going to be there charging 30 to 40 minutes? Well, they're probably going to go shop and your stores in your restaurants be a part of that environment from start to finish, and because of Georgia Power and the partnerships that we put into place from when we said okay, this is the site location we all agree on. To install was two and a half months, which for utility is moving very quickly we upsize transformer to one and a half megawatt to carry the load across 16. Chargers are seeing about 4000 charges a month on this network, which is pretty high for most networks that we've seen. And then we've also done some testing here, using solar panels on top of roadways. It's a French company called Huawei. And they laid solar panels right on top of our roadway because the idea is roads are clear cut lots of good sunlight. So they're testing the durability of the roadway because we have vehicles driving right over the top of them. And we hook that into a level two charging station to see if you can charge the vehicle over the roadway that you drove in on.

 

Jim Frazer  

Wow. Yeah, that's interesting as well like capacitor charging. Of course, all of this is underlaid by IoT and conductivity. And I know some of your partners are telecom operators. In which of these domains are they getting involved?

 

Brandon Branham  

Yeah, so we've got two, right, we've got hardwire line, which is through our partnership with Hargrave fiber. And then we have T Mobile on the 5g spectrum of 5g 4g. That obviously 5g Still needs fiber, right. So fiber is always going to be at play the millimeter wave and system that we have here are supported by our great fiber and give that connectivity and we're seeing them come around is really being able especially T Mobile right, what can we start to take these applications and cut the cable line so that you're not constrained to where you can pull fiber and the cost of hold fiber. So they've been intricately involved in the deployment of LIDAR systems on our intersections, backhaul over 5g, which is a fascinating concept, because of the amount of data that transfers over LIDAR versus a traditional video camera. And to be able to do that, and then can, we're using that to convert to connected vehicle messaging using the 5g network so that we can broadcast the awareness of that traffic intersection, if there's a pedestrian in there, we can take that and convert it and send it out to approaching vehicles.

 

Jim Frazer  

What's the comprehensiveness of this is really astounding. I'm sure not everything is rosy. So can you comment perhaps, on your challenges in starting this up what complications, obstacles impediments? Did you come across in this unique effort

 

Brandon Branham  

stem seen on some unseen, right? You know, obviously financially, it is a an investment that cities have to make, we've made a little over $6 million investment in the infrastructure to build curiosity lab, it's everything from the roadway reconstruction to allow, we have dedicated lanes for autonomous advanced vehicle testing, the fiber systems standing up the technology to support all of that. So there's challenges and just the amount of available funding, which through that new IGA bill, we're going to hopefully see some opportunities there. But what some of the unseen that we get, you don't think about is, when you do, we want to be agnostic as possible, so that we can evaluate and test and see these technologies, but not always private sector likes to play together when they're competitors. So by allowing and partnering with some excludes others, and so those are things that we've seen have been a challenge, because as we think of standards and standardizing all of these devices, they're going to have to talk to each other eventually. So how do you get there? So that's been some of our challenges, working with the university systems, getting them pulled in there's a lot of bureaucracy in university. But it's a very important aspect on how we move things forward from a research and application standpoint. So challenging dealing with different entities, and part of it and then one of the biggest challenges put on my CTO hat, is we've got all these new emerging technologies, we've got all these devices out in our city, I've got 2728 different devices, well, that's 2720 different logins that I have to go. And so pulling all of these into a single pane of glass is really been something we've been focused on and working with some companies to try and solve that issue. Because until cities can see every device on a holistic approach, it's going to be harder to make better informed decisions when you're piecemealing devices as part of the standardization of these technologies.

 

Jim Frazer  

Wow, that's just great. Moving on to implications of over Europe. for its and similar efforts around the country and around the world, the smart city concept has different arguably sometimes substantially different meanings depending where you are. If you're on Park Avenue in Manhattan, it's different than if you're in in some underdeveloped areas of the world. And even in developed world, things in China are different than they are in Peachtree corners. So how has Peachtree corners approached the creation of a blueprint for how you know other cities in the US can do this? And is it applicable to other areas of the world as

 

Brandon Branham  

well? Yeah, that's a great question. And something that each community, as you said, is different. And so your key stakeholders within that community really have to know what the issues or problems and challenges they're trying to solve for their communities specifically. So we have what we do may look different, but how you get there can be accomplished the same method. And really we've really approached this from a public private model, it's really a true Triple P, as they call it, to bring in these innovative companies and collaborators to have the seat at the table to really discuss these and find the best solution to do that. And that model can be shared no matter what city you're in, we're starting to see that breakdown of the traditional buy and sell relationship between private and public sector to really get in and rolling up your sleeves into these problems to solve and creating new opportunities through the companies. And so we always say you no one know what the problem is you're trying to solve doesn't have to be a big one, right? It can be we've got a park where we put trash sensors out so that we're better utilizing our staffs time, not go into a trash can that's empty. You know, what's cool, when it's cool when to go when not to go. So just saving resources. And that's a small application, all the way out to as we start to think of solving digital equity and the divide, finding applications to do that we're working on a project now to deploy public Wi Fi, and safety security in one of our underrepresented areas. And that was through a combination of both fiber both wireless street lighting, so our utility company, in a startup out of Israel, to bring a package together to provide that service in this area. So you can take

 

Jim Frazer  

as far as a blueprint, I'm thinking about your garbage example, I think you went quite quickly there. But it does sound to me that as if you actually documented all of the user needs required in that particular application, and then created a feature set to satisfy them. Is that would that be an accurate representation? Yeah, yeah, we

 

Brandon Branham  

had one set of cans before we knew kind of that documented route that our public works team had to do in order to manage that. And so we said, Okay, here's an easy potential way to solve that. So if we do this, this and this, layer, your options out what you need to support that infrastructure that's there, and then move that path forward, we did a similar thing for our smart parking application. In our, in our downtown, we built a two acre, green space where we hold concerts and events for the community, usually draw three to 4000 people to concert, we only have 1000 on site parking. So you know, we all hate driving around looking for a spot. So we did a smart parking application, integrated it with our community app so we can let our residents and visitors know before they get there, hey, parking is full, go ahead and go to overflow. And then obviously, it brings in a safety security aspect for your public spaces as well. Certainly,

 

Jim Frazer  

can you tell us about some firsts and successes that the city has, has entered into?

 

Brandon Branham  

Yeah, we've had some very unique first pad some the first deployment of Tel operated e scooters. So fake Uber but for an E scooter, you call it a comes to you. This is a company back in 2019 trying to fix the clutter issues. We really had that onset of micro mobility. So they had drivers down in Mexico City could remote into the scooter and drive it to location. So if you got off, they could put it back to a docking station. Kind of weird seeing an E scooter go down the road with nobody on it. Have a you know, took a little while to get used to that. We had the first deployment of a fully autonomous shuttle operating on a public roadway back in 2019 as well, as the first time I had kind of been taken out of the parking lot scenario into the public realm, which was fascinating because we're not a flat open course. See, we've got a 13% grade change, lots of trees curves, provided we provide a pretty unique opportunity for companies to test their product in here. So those were some of the fun first. And you know, another one that I think is a really going to help push us forward, as we just did the first connected vehicle of an preemption of a traffic signal to an autonomous vehicle over a 5g network. So before we

 

Jim Frazer  

go into transportation, ask a many these applications connectivity is simply required. So I know you've got quite a number of projects underway about 5g. So let's spend a little bit of time on 5g What, what's happening at the curiosity lab? And can you free corners in need in the domain of better connectivity?

 

Brandon Branham  

Yeah, as we think you kind of twofold you've got traditional Smart City applications that just need a higher bandwidth of connectivity for machine learning applications are reporting, but maybe not the highest latencies you would need in a connected vehicle environment where you need to spin and push that data out quicker because it makes the difference between a vehicle stopping not stopping recognizing or not. So we've got applications in the autonomous shuttle over the 5g network, as we start to think about removing the driver out of a public transportation system, how do you manage the inside of the cab. So we've got a Microsoft percept device connected to the 5g network processing are the people wearing their seatbelts what's the overall setting inside the vehicle look like? And that reports all over the network. We've connected the CVX application into the 5g network as well. And that's detecting the light and the autonomous shuttle. So when it gets within a certain range on the network from a connected vehicle, that actually holds that light green for the shuttle, save this three minutes on the route, which you know, these are low speed vehicles, they're only going about 1314 miles an hour. So three minutes is a big deal. But if you think about that, and you know bigger spectrum of managing corridors, that starts to change the objective, also doing some low bands, IoT devices. So we have five, we have sensors and fire hydrants monitoring, water pressure regulation, water theft, because that is an issue a lot of data on fire hydrants using the network for that. And then also in our smart parking application, we have areas that we cannot get fiber to, it's just too cost prohibitive. So we're using the 5g network, which we need a little higher speed and latency on that, because we're detecting vehicles pulling in and out of spots in a real time manner. And pushing that back into our system.

 

Jim Frazer  

Oh, that's, that's great. You've touched on many aspects of the transportation network. And in fact, we lead off with transportation is one of your most important if not the most important vertical you have. So let's go slowly and granularly through a number of your transportation projects. So let's first talk about per x, what is a connected vehicle? And what's C to Vx? And why is it more? Let's just focus on that one. First step.

 

Brandon Branham  

Yeah. Yeah, that's a pretty big topic now, right? You know, in the last few weeks, with the FCC, making their ruling that they're going to release the top 30 megahertz of the band's specific to connected vehicle. So as we see the DX is connected vehicle to everything. And that communicates over a 5.9 gigahertz band. And you can use a portion of the 5g network for that communication between infrastructure to vehicle and vehicle to pedestrian. So one of the examples that we have is we have a cross as rapid flashing beacon. So it's a pedestrian crossing and where the pedestrian pushes the button lights up so they can safely cross the road. That's not at a traditional intersection. So we have a 5g connected roadside unit that when a pedestrian pushes that button, it broadcasts out that message to the oncoming vehicles that are able to receive connected vehicle messaging to let them know there is a pedestrian in that crosswalk. And it's about a 200 yard range. So give me more awareness from the safety application. Talk about vulnerable road users, that's the term they use in connected vehicle. You know, get outside of the car, but our pedestrians that are walking are cyclists who are riding, how do you make them more aware to the vehicles that are around them to protect that user and we're also doing vehicle to vehicle communication so that you Each vehicle that's connected, but the device knows where the other vehicle is in real time on telemetry data. And then if they do a hard break, they can alert that other vehicle that, hey, the vehicle in front of you slammed on its brakes, and they can start to slow down, scale that to the infrastructure side, we're telling the vehicles, what the signal phasing timing is. So if you're as we think about optimizing our corridors, if I can tell you to maintain a certain speed, and you'll make it through green, and we can start to optimize that transportation system, or you're not going to make that light at your current speed, go ahead and start slowing down because the lights going to turn red.

 

Jim Frazer  

Yeah, there's, there's a fascinating number of connected vehicle applications that have drone, very dramatic impacts. And the, the first I think of is that the vehicle spacing can be drawn and can be drastically reduced. And, I mean, I remember reading fairly recently a study about the Lincoln Tunnel in going between New Jersey and New York, that if you took the buses and use V TV, they wouldn't be 10 feet apart, 20 feet apart. And you could very easily overwhelm the Port Authority Bus Station with passengers. If you have that very, very quick. Yeah. But the other one that from a vulnerable road user perspective, I think is perhaps the most impactful is that in the relatively near future v two person v two page, I'll create an acronym communications will be available so that that vehicle will know that your phone is in your pocket and your phone is a proxy for you. So that if you are crossing that crosswalk, and you have opted not to press the button, or if you press the button have opted not to wait, the vehicle will still know you're there. And in in the perfect universe of event to the world that vehicle then apply its brakes, and slow down so that you are you're you can safely cross the road. With the number of pedestrian deaths in the US that is that is just simply an incredible, incredible game changer. Now we talked about connected vehicles, and that's a little bit different than autonomous vehicles. So Brandon, can you for our listeners, perhaps differentiate the connected vehicle versus the autonomous vehicle? And then tell us about what kind of autonomous projects you have underway? Yeah,

 

Brandon Branham  

good question. Because a lot of times they did get confused, where you know, connected vehicle is the communication between vehicle to infrastructure, vehicle to vehicle, whereas autonomous is the, in the systems engineering of the vehicle to drive itself without any communication from another device. So as we said, we have currently a deployment of three purpose built autonomous shuttles that are operating in our facility now. Because they're purpose built, we do have to have a waiver from NITSA, to let him ride on the roadway. So requires a safety steward on board. But they're using localization through GPS modules and the network to know its location on the roadway. And then uses an array of Lidar and video cameras to detect real time objects that are in its path, to drive the system remotely by itself, not controlled by us as humans. So it does detection. If an object comes out in front of it, it's detecting that through its Lidar and computer vision to stop or slow down the vehicle. But it's solely dependent on the vehicle brain itself to operate whereas we are the brain and the vehicle and we're binding.

 

Jim Frazer  

That's, that's superb. In our sequence of questions, your next step is given the insights you've generated on your OB is fully connected straight via B, V to V or autonomous. What's your perspective on trusted level four and level five autonomous vehicles, particularly in dense environments?

 

Brandon Branham  

I think we're getting there. Are we there yet? Probably not. There's still a lot of reactions that we as humans do, and instinctively do as we're driving that they're still training these algorithms to learn how to do you know, we've seen some of these deployments start to roll out I'm in Las Vegas and San Francisco. But they've traditionally been on lower conflict times of the day, so more at night. But we have perception model when you're driving down the down the roadway and you have two pedestrians walk out from behind the car and another car pulls across on the left hand lane. How do you respond to that? As humans, we instinctively know what to do in that situation. But how do you train a computer to think like a human driver would? And then how do you start to recognize if you think of Tesla is probably the most talked about autonomous, it's not really autonomous. So just clarify that one. But is they're approaching a traffic signal, they don't know that the light is red, if it's not a connected vehicle, because they can't tell the difference in the color of red, yellow green on that traffic signal. So there's not a vehicle in front of it, that stops, it will actually continue to go through that intersection. So those are the things we have to think about as we begin to push autonomous out into more urban environments where you have traffic signals and crosswalks, the infrastructure has to be there to support it. So connected and autonomous vehicles actually go hand in hand and help one another, navigate these more dense environments.

 

Jim Frazer  

That's true, because the connected vehicle world, some of that data can be shared with the autonomous vehicle as a data input that is not solely harvested by a lidar camera, and accelerometers and other onboard devices. So the curiosity lab and Peachtree corners is not doing all of this in a vacuum. In a, I'm sure you're interacting with other public agencies. So what interfaces and dialogues have you been having with the Georgia Department transportation, the US Department of Transportation, as well as other of the smarter cities that are out there?

 

Brandon Branham  

Yeah. Now we're all we're all in this together to learn how we safely and effectively roll out these new emerging technologies to our communities. And so we are always open and have visitors here in the lab experience and what's going on because it is a public street. I interacts with everyday traffic is us. We were fortunate Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg, was here on site, he'd heard about some of the work we were doing, and so came and took a visit, went back and talked to his cabinet. So we've been we've had the Deputy Administrator of the FAA here, as we start to think about drone applications in cities. The CIO of the US D O T was just here three weeks ago getting to learn from this and then working with all of our other constituents. It's a pretty tight knit group in the smart city world. We're fortunate about that. So we share our love and hatred of certain things. And how did this work? How did this didn't and so we're getting ready to all converge in Miami here next week for the smart city Expo, where we just get to honestly share ideas, like how's it going? How did this implement for you? versus how did that not work in this community. So we keep it a pretty open dialogue between us behind the closed doors where we can share honestly, and, and share those experiences across our network. But we've had New Orleans here in the city, we've had city of Aurora, come out and visit us LA was here. So every day now, we're only a city of 45,000 people, but we can help from what we're learning and doing here in Peachtree corners, even to a larger city. Thanks

 

Jim Frazer  

in a way that we talked about challenges, but one of the challenges we didn't discuss was that of cybersecurity. You know, given the given that you're a model and creating this blueprint for smart city development, and ecosystems. What are you doing in the realm of cybersecurity and what are other agencies and companies and other guidances from that? Are you receiving from SDOs and trade organizations and all the all the other organizations that may impact cybersecurity,

 

Brandon Branham  

the one thing that keeps me up at night, right. Keeps it a good person and technology. Yep. We actually one of the things we did as we as we started to build out this network, and starting to think about all the connected devices that are talking to one another. We went through the process to be a NIST 171 compliant facility. So you know, taking that standard that is been set from the national level, to implement that into how we think about the security and protection of data and privacy. Eat at a smart city environment. So our facility is compliant with that. And then we work closely on really three different viewpoints on cybersecurity your traditional firewall standards approach, and then partnered with a couple news startups in the cybersecurity space. One of them is actually doing sampling testing of all the network traffic, running an AI algorithm over it to test vulnerabilities on endpoint devices, not just you know, what's coming in to the firewall, but what's happening on those devices that are out on the edge. So continuing to do that, but as we all know, you're going to have paid the most amount of money for the greatest and latest and defense mechanisms, but training mat user, still the most important thing we can do is to protect ourselves that 12 inches between keyboard and chair, most dangerous part of any organization.

 

Jim Frazer  

That's interesting. We've covered quite a few applications. But what other types of Smart City applications are there that you're considering? What comes to mind for me are utility applications, other autonomous vehicles that might not be the passenger carrying vehicle? Public Safety? Energy, we talked about? Sustainability, renewable energy? What do I need those trigger? Any projects? Have they triggered any projects?

 

Brandon Branham  

In our lab? Yeah, absolutely. Think of non passenger working on a couple pilots from a delivery system, both on ground underground and above ground. So what does that look like as we start to implement these autonomous systems throughout and all electric? So you know, thinking about energy conservation? So we'll have those. And what is that when you have a robotic delivery system on your sidewalks crossing your roadways? How do you manage that through your transportation systems, because sometimes they don't move as fast as us as humans when we walk across an intersection. So you have to balance that we're doing some in the energy space, we're in the process of building a 2.6 acre multimodal Evie hub. So as we think of bringing big transit onto the conversion of electric, creating a space for a handoff, to last mile opportunities, whether it be autonomous shuttle, e scooter, or an E bike, all converging in a single location, and then adding the charging infrastructure to support the local area, both DC and level two. But bringing solar as a part of that to balance the load and demand on the grid, doing some power wall sharing, using Pat battery banks to offset some of the demand and increase decrease power load between vehicles the best you can but also create a community gathering spot for those residents and employees who work in this in the park where we're building this. So having a public Wi Fi system covered seating, food, truck corrals, so not just focusing on vehicle, but the community that supports all of it as well.

 

Jim Frazer  

So in terms of recommendations to others that are aspiring to follow down that same path, we talked about the challenges of starting and initiating the curiosity lab. But what are the major challenges that you know a city may face or some other public agency Highway Authority, for example,

 

Brandon Branham  

always resources, I mean, it's always the number one challenge, no doubt about it. Local government of the state government is always strapped for resources and financing. That shouldn't be changing here. We're about to see generational money come down through the IJ bill, I can really help a lot of cities in this approach. But also just being a champion for your community, keeping that citizen centric focus in the applications of what you're doing can overcome a lot of the challenges, opening up the conversation with the private sector. Government wasn't traditionally known for innovating, that's changing, but you know, bringing that bringing those to the table to have those conversations because that dynamic has changed a lot over the last four or five years.

 

Jim Frazer  

More specifically, um, let's go through perhaps a few pillars of building a smart city. You know, what recommendations or guidance can you give in terms of planning? How did you approach the planning process for

 

Brandon Branham  

us? Yeah. You know, you always have to start with your base layer of connectivity. It's So some cities are fortunate and they have a very robust fiber network, some cities are not so you know, laying that foundation to know, where you have access where you don't, where you're going to need wireless versus wired, to build that network so that you can build the base for any of the other applications that come in. And then it's, it's going to be need driven, no doubt about it. So you know, where your connectivity is your application that's going to come on, that's going to be there to support, whether it's a digital divide, Project, where you're bringing connectivity into a neighborhood, or you're using it to provide a service to enhance your city operations, whether it's your Public Works facility, or your transportation, or your police services. But start with that goal of what you need to accomplish, First, know your connectivity layer, and then go out to your partners to start to look at the devices that are able to meet those needs. Okay, in defining

 

Jim Frazer  

that goal, how important is the role of stakeholders? And how do you define your stakeholder communities?

 

Brandon Branham  

Very important, because you're not going to get funding without your stakeholders. So one is most all people inside of the local organization know what their community's asking for, whether it is to enhance the service that you're providing directly, or just to make their interaction with the public environment a little better. So you've got that stakeholder feedback from them, you've got your boards and commissions that are within your city. And then you have your elected body, obviously, your biggest champion as you go out, because they're the ones that are approving the funding for all of this. So if you build that in relationships across those lines, and then most jurisdictions, most cities are operated on the city manager form of government. So having your city manager, be a champion of what the work you're doing as well, is a key part of that stakeholder engagement. And I think if you get all them aligned on the intent and the purpose behind it, and then have your data to show the impact that it can have for your community, they'll usually support it.

 

Jim Frazer  

Okay, um, generally speaking, are there. I mean, you mentioned a number of different technologies. But you know, as you go in this process of planning, and stakeholder engagement, and community definitions, and all of that, what technologies should a city manager have in mind or stakeholder? That are the hot buttons that really can drive this whole process forward? Is it five V? Is it something else?

 

Brandon Branham  

Yeah. Yeah, it's hard to answer that question. Because it really is what we face is going to be very different than what downtown Chicago faces. You know, so having a very specific need, but connectivity, no doubt about it has to be there. Whether it's wired or wireless 5g provides a lot of benefits that you traditionally couldn't get just because of cost prohibitive for fiber. But as you think about for most metropolitan areas, transportation is going to be a big focus operations and management of our transportation facilities. So that is and we see a lot of that in the smart city space, right, because it is a need in most communities. So being able to make a big impact there quickly, can make probably a quicker sale, for lack of a better word to your elected body, on the effects that Smart Cities technology can have on your community.

 

Jim Frazer  

You know, what, once you have done your planning, you started deploying then chosen your technology. You know, 10 testing is a big issue. How do you know you're staying on track to hit your goal and your KPIs? Yeah, you talked about that a little bit?

 

Brandon Branham  

Yeah. One Yeah, hopefully you did your homework beforehand, to know where your parents that is. And then, and then you're really measuring the progress from that implementation. And some of it is not always going to be a direct one for one correlation. And some of the technologies you think of where connected vehicle is right now on its ability to use signal preemption over connected vehicle technology for emergency and public transit, transport. You don't always have a trip going out over that intersection. But when that technology works, the way it's intended to, when that emergency vehicle goes through that corridor, then you can mark that as a success. Otherwise, you're doing a different measurement on that model. But as you if we think of think of our trash example, if we saved our public works 30% and travel time, which then saved us X doll As amount on gas and resources for the vehicle and the equipment, you can measure those pretty easily.

 

Jim Frazer  

So, so Brandon, what's next for the city of Peachtree corners and curiosity lab? You know, what's your five year vision? What's it good? What's next for us? And I'm going to look like in five years?

 

Brandon Branham  

Yeah. Yeah, a big focus of what we do is economic development for the growth and creating the synergies between our business community and the city itself. So continuing to grow that business base, we're actually the 45,000 residents, but we also have 45,000 jobs. So we our regional job, which will actually allows us to be a zero millage rate city. So we actually don't charge city property taxes to our businesses and residents. So continuing to use this as kind of the catalyst and drive that city where people want to be and we're fortunate, we just had a medical company, relocate their opening our East Coast headquarters, $650 million investment 1500 new jobs into the community because they liked the model that we're doing with public and private, really coming together to drive forward innovation and create a space like Silicon Valley, we call it silicon orchard here. Continuing down that path, and then expanding the footprints of testing application and opportunities. Right now we're on a three mile section of roadway that companies really have free rein to come and test and deploy are going to expand that process that wider so it gives them more access more learning capabilities across the city as a whole. And then continuing to push these through to the how we provide services to our residents. Because we are unique in that. So we take advantage of any application we can, despite 400 ish people providing services for the city, we actually only have 15, w two employees, for the city. So we take that private public model even into how we operate the city on a day to day basis.

 

Jim Frazer  

Great. As we've been speaking, a number of questions have come in. So let's, let's go through some of these. So our first question is, what are you doing about first mile last mile mobility, in particular, with electric vehicles? Can you speak about that?

 

Brandon Branham  

Yeah, so we have a really big focus too, on the mobility hub that we're going under that initiative is to bring in an E bike sharing program that connects that hub with our other residential areas across the city. We'll have the E scooter deployment along with that. And then the purpose built shuttles. Those are also electric vehicles really focus on that first and last mile connectivity to bring all three layers of those together for hopefully to increase ridership on public transportation.

 

Jim Frazer  

Our next question is what technology are you using for V to V communications.

 

Brandon Branham  

So we're actually have three different companies that we're working with in that space. So we have some common Signia. company out of Hungary. So we have some onboard units as well as roadside units, I terrorists, we have their technology out here traffic cast, both onboard and roadside units. And then another company who's doing a little different approach to connect the vehicle company called Applied Information. It's using a FMU communications and not a traditional 5.9 band that we see in connected vehicle. But it's got can talk to it has an app that you and I could download on our phone called travel safely. So then we become a connected vehicle. So that can go out to any vehicle, you don't have to have an install of an onboard unit inside your car. So valuating both of those options.

 

Jim Frazer  

Here's a, here's some interesting, this is a very interesting question. What steps are you taking to secure the legacy operational technology as you add these new capabilities?

 

Brandon Branham  

Upgrading, right, yeah, we're fortunate, we really are in that space only being a 10 year old city. A lot of our infrastructure is newer, and but you know, working with our partners, to one continue to do upgrades and software updates to ensure securities plays a pivotal role in how we manage all of our systems across the city. Yeah, it's kind of an unfair advantage being 10 years old in that space, because that is a big challenge for a lot of municipalities that are 80 to 100 years old. There's a lot of legacy operating infrastructure that you have to consider It's not always easy to manage, but do as much as you can upgrade when you can, and then find creative voice.

 

Jim Frazer  

Sure. Our next question is, are you integrating lighting into your smart city initiatives as well? And I'll even expand upon that, that what about IoT sensors and streetlight heads? And what does that what does that do for your entire architecture?

 

Brandon Branham  

We talked about challenges, this is one of our challenges. So it's, we have our utility partner Georgia Power, but they are an owner operator maintainer of all lighting across the city. And they have an across the state million plus street lights. So they're only they're only able to do a certain amount of creativity in the in the lighting space, because their footprint, we did do a city wide conversion to led back in 2018. So all of our all of our street lighting is led one of our pilot projects that we're getting to work on now. And that will be coming out here shortly. We're using lighting head company called jugando. So inside the lighting head, it's got the Wi Fi access point. It's got a 5g backhaul, it's got CCTV, and then we can create a mesh network. And it's an LED light that can be managed a little better pace in what traditionally has been in the past. So all converging all that into a single unit. I'm going to deploy that across one of our neighborhoods.

 

Jim Frazer  

Great. Well, we're nearing the end of our time together. So we'll help we'll take one more question. And it is about are there opportunities within the curiosity lab for foreign investors and foreign investment?

 

Brandon Branham  

Yes, we actually focus a lot on the foreign industry. We have five relationships with five countries formally, Canada, Israel, Taiwan, UK, and most recently, in France, we were selected as part of the French Tech program, where the French government is funneling French startups to North America. And we were selected as one of six locations across the country to be that landing pad for them. So we bring a lot of international community and we've had companies from nine companies from Israel test in the facility and bring the VC market. Same from Canada. We've got our first two Taiwanese companies coming in. So yes, very open to our foreign relationships.

 

Jim Frazer  

well bred, and this is this really has been a fascinating this discussion today. We're nearing the end of our time. So do you have any final words for our audience today?

 

Brandon Branham  

Yeah. One. Thank you, Dan, for this opportunity to share the work that we've been doing. And as any of our other local municipalities and governments listening continue to do great work, be bold, be brave in what you're doing, and keep pushing forward. It's a great opportunity that we're ahead of right now. And just yeah, we're here. We're open. Come join us a curiosity lab.

 

Jim Frazer  

Yeah. So how does a listener then learn more about these efforts? Can you share your contact information or that of the curiosity lab?

 

Brandon Branham  

Yeah, so you can visit our site curiosity lab ptc.com. Learn more about what we're doing through that facility. Our contact information is on there to reach out love to host you anytime to see our facility in action.

 

Jim Frazer  

Well, thank you. Thank you, Brandon. Once again, our guest today on the smart city podcast has been Brandon Brown, the CTO of the curiosity lab and the assistant city manager of Peachtree corners GA. This has been fascinating, and I thank you again for being our guest today. I look forward to all of our listeners on another edition of the smart city podcast.

 

ARC Advisory Introduction  

Broadcasting from Boston, Massachusetts, the Smart Cities podcast is the only podcast dedicated to all things smart cities. The podcast is the creation of ARC advisory group Smart City practice. ARC advises leading companies, municipalities and governments on technology trends and market dynamics that affect their business and quality of life in their cities. To engage further please like and share our podcasts or reach out directly on Twitter at Smart City viewpoints or on our website at www.ardcweb.com/industries/smart-cities