On Wednesday morning, two drones flew a large red ribbon over Peachtree Corners City Hall and to a ribbon cutting ceremony for the city’s autonomous vehicle research center.
Curiosity Lab, a city-funded research center and incubator focusing on self-driving vehicles and other transportation technology, officially opened with Wednesday’s ceremony. The project has been in the works for more than a year, and it’s already attracted partnerships with companies including Sprint, Delta and Georgia Power. About 300 people attended the Wednesday event, including Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Georgia Power CEO Paul Bowers.
The $2 million test track runs alongside Technology Parkway, separating regular traffic from test vehicles with large white cones. The track is just off Peachtree Parkway and near office and residential space, providing a variety of scenarios to test vehicles in, said City Manager Brian Johnson.
“This is where technology goes when it graduates from a controlled lab environment and needs to be tested in a real-world environment,” Johnson said.
The city demonstrated that Wednesday, running a self-driving shuttle called Olli. Guests at the Wednesday event — including Duncan and Peachtree Corners Mayor Mike Mason — took a ride in the Olli around the Peachtree Corners City Hall parking lot. Two Olli vehicles, manufactured by company Local Motors, will be stationed at Curiosity Lab permanently for ongoing testing. Part of the vision Peachtree Corners set out when it first announced the test track was an autonomous shuttle similar to the Olli.
Curiosity Lab is designed to accommodate companies big and small, with its incubator Prototype Prime playing host to smaller startups. The 1.5-mile track could be a testing ground for those startups or for major automotive and transportation companies. Delta Airlines and Georgia Tech recently announced a research partnership with Curiosity Lab, with the airline suggesting autonomous vehicles could help with logistics and customer service.
The partnership with Sprint provided the track with a 5G wireless network, similar to that used by cell phones, so different technologies can “communicate” with each other. The city demonstrated that by having a drone fly a box of food to a 5G-enabled mailbox — a collaboration between drone delivery company Valqari, food delivery company REEF Technologies and autonomous aircraft company Autonodyne. The autonomous drone and the mailbox were able to exchange location information over the network, allowing the food to be delivered safely instead of flung into nearby bushes.
Peachtree Corners’ work with private businesses on Curiosity Lab is an example Georgia can brag on, Duncan said in remarks at the event.
“What we get to put on display is this particular city in Georgia and the execution of a successful public-private partnership,” Duncan said. “I think it tells the world, ‘This isn’t just where Georgia is today, but where Georgia is going in the future.’”
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