In tech-heavy Peachtree Corners, a posse of faceless chauffeurs will soon start picking up riders and circling the city’s business park.

Peachtree Corners officials hailed the return of autonomous shuttles during a Wednesday event. Four shuttles made by two different companies will take a 3-mile loop around the city’s test track alongside regular traffic on Technology Parkway, wedged between Peachtree Industrial Boulevard and Ga. 141.

“We’re talking about the deployment of first-of-its-kind technology on a public road,” said City Manager Brian Johnson during a press conference.

The 5G-powered shuttles, some made by Arizona’s Local Motors and others by French-based Navya, will make seven stops within 25 minutes when traversing the city’s technology hub. The free-to-ride shuttles will begin operating 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Friday in about two weeks.

Caption
The driverless shuttles in Peachtree Corners will travel along Technology Parkway. They'll begin and end at City Hall. (Courtesy City of Peachtree Corners)

Credit: City of Peachtree Corners

The driverless shuttles in Peachtree Corners will travel along Technology Parkway. They'll begin and end at City Hall. (Courtesy City of Peachtree Corners)
Caption
The driverless shuttles in Peachtree Corners will travel along Technology Parkway. They'll begin and end at City Hall. (Courtesy City of Peachtree Corners)

Credit: City of Peachtree Corners

Credit: City of Peachtree Corners

Operators from Beep, an autonomous mobility company, will ride in each of the shuttles in case it needs to be controlled manually with an Xbox video game controller. But for the most part, the shuttles will drive and stop themselves.

The Navya shuttles can fit up to eight passengers, while the shuttles made by Local Motors, known as Olli, can fit up to 10. They each travel at approximately 12 mph and come equipped with wheelchair ramps.

The camera-equipped shuttles can communicate with one another and with their surroundings through “cellular vehicle-to-everything” technology. They can connect to other vehicles, traffic signals and crosswalks over 5G and stop in the event a pedestrian or vehicle is close to creating a collision.

Jeff Parker, general manager and CEO at MARTA, said he plans to monitor the success of the shuttles. He hailed the shuttles’ potential to fuel economic development and tackle transportation equity issues across metro Atlanta while being cost efficient.

Peachtree Corners, which formed in 2012 and positions itself as a “smart city,” has served as a testing ground for several other futuristic technologies over the last few years. Tele-operated scooters previously drove around the technology park, and the city owns a Ford Edge with self-driving capabilities.

The tech companies that set up shop in Peachtree Corners work with The Curiosity Lab, a publicly funded innovation center that allows companies to use the city’s infrastructure for testing and works with startups to develop up-and-coming technologies.

The city welcomed driverless shuttles for the first time in late 2019, at which time an earlier version of Olli shuttles cruised through Technology Park until March 2020. The newer fleet of Olli shuttles allows for a smoother ride, said Mayor Mike Mason.

A weekend route around Town Center and The Forum shopping center will be considered in the next few months if the shuttles prove to be successful, said Brandon Branham, assistant city manager and chief technology officer.

The city has invested about $6 million toward The Curiosity Lab and all of its infrastructure, Branham said. The one-year pilot program for the shuttles cost the city about $100,000 with its partners fronting the rest of the bill, he said.

The tax revenue gathered from hotels, restaurants and businesses due to the activity in Technology Park, like the shuttles, allows the city to forego charging residents for property taxes, Branham said.

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