Gwinnett city announces plans for $2M ‘autonomous vehicle test track’

The city of Peachtree Corners revealed Wednesday its $2 million plan to build a self-driving shuttle that will run up and down one of its primary thoroughfares.

The ultimate goal, though, isn’t to taxi people around, or to relieve traffic congestion, or to be greener.

It’s to fuel economic development, officials said.

The autonomous shuttle will run about 1.4 miles in a dedicated, reversible lane along Technology Parkway and will have the ability to carry a small number of riders, the city said. But its main purpose will be serving as a functional testing site. The idea is to attract new companies that are working on the wide-ranging spectrum of software and hardware required in the burgeoning autonomous vehicle field.

"The economic implications of investing in advanced vehicle technology is far-reaching," said Sanjay Parekh, the executive director of Prototype Prime, Peachtree Corners' start-up incubator.

Peachtree Corners is Gwinnett's most populous city and also its newest. The area has been officially incorporated only since 2012, but its roots in the technology sector go back decades.

A businessman named Paul Duke first dreamed up a planned community called Peachtree Corners in the late 1960s. The idea was to create a district that specifically targeted technology industries and their well-educated, well-paid employees, sort of a predecessor to the live-work-play communities.

Technology Park Atlanta was born, with initial tenants like General Electric and Scientific Atlanta. Subdivisions and shopping centers followed.

Since the city was incorporated, officials have worked hard to reverse a vacancy rate that had piled up in previous years. They see the so-called “autonomous vehicle test track” as the next step, and Mayor Mike Mason said they’ve already drawn interest from start-ups and other businesses.

Prototype Prime will be launching an “advanced vehicle accelerator” to help foster collaboration on the project and help bring in potential partners.

The city has billed its plans as unlike anything outside the Perimeter. Inside of it, the city of Atlanta unveiled something similar last fall — a roughly two-mile stretch of North Avenue with adaptive traffic signals and other technology. Autonomous vehicles haven't been added yet.

Peachtree Corners hopes to have its shuttle up and running in about a year. A contractor has not yet been chosen to provide the vehicle.

“What we really want,” Mason said, “is companies to come here, to start their businesses, pay business license fees, move their families here, for them to buy houses, when the millennials grow up they start families, and the cycle begins.”

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