Self-driving trucks and smart city, Atlanta explores IoT | Crain's

Self-driving trucks and smart city, Atlanta explores IoT

Cynthia Curry. | Photo courtesy of Lindsay Hawkins.

The internet of things (IoT)—and its opportunities for the business and civic sectors—have caught Atlanta’s eye.

In 2017, the Metro Atlanta Chamber, along with the Atlanta Committee for Progress and more than two dozen companies, launched IoT.ATL. This program aims to promote Atlanta’s IoT industry. IoT is the connectivity between devices—such as appliances, vehicles or entire smart cities—to transmit data. For example, a sister company of Google is piloting a self-driving freight truck in Atlanta.

IoT.ATL’s particular areas of focus include transportation, digital supply chain, smart cities and, eventually, health. Atlanta has a budding scene for this technology. Honeywell, GE Digital, AT&T and Stanley Black & Decker all have IoT-related tech centers in the metro area.

Cynthia Curry, the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s director of IoT ecosystem expansion, spoke with Crain's Atlanta about why Atlanta is focusing on IoT and what assets it has.

How did IoT.ATL begin?

Accenture did a study for the Chamber looking at trends in IoT and what’s happening in that space.The whole world is going in that direction, and IoT is the evolution of mobility. So when we saw that happening, we had Accenture do a study for the Chamber over about six months. And they looked at trends in IoT, global trends in IoT, city-to-city comparisons. It took a look at how Atlanta’s strengths stood up to the trends that were happening within the IoT space. And they helped us identify a few areas where Atlanta is really strong.

So the ultimate goal of IoT.ATL is to become a global leader in IoT innovation and to create the smart city of the future. In order to do that, you need a focused, deliberate initiative to make sure that you are evangelizing all the work that companies in the IoT space and technologies are doing in Atlanta, making sure that you have the right kind of ecosystem and business environment in place to foster innovation.

What does the IoT.ATL program do to nurture the right ecosystem?

[The executive committee helps] us set this strategy of how do we do that. There’s about 30 people on that committee. Mike Zeto, who’s vice president of AT&T Smart Cities, chairs that. And then Jim Fowler, CIO of GE, is one of our co-chairs. Cameron Clayton, CEO of [The Weather Company], is one of our co-chairs. And then Jim Bailey, who runs global mobility at Accenture, is a co-chair. And then on that committee, we have representatives from all the different stakeholders in the city… The Atlanta Committee for Progress is on there. President [G.P. “Bud”] Peterson of Georgia Tech is on there.

We have representatives from corporations, startups, the academic community and the civic community all in that room, with the goal of being able to promote Atlanta’s IoT streams, make sure that we’re recruiting talent and driving the economic development and investment in the region.

We have a large initiative that we just decided on. We just decided on the final product…We’re going to do smart city playgrounds or sandboxes, and I mean that metaphorically. So they do this a lot in Europe. [It’s] places to create spaces where companies can come in and test their sensors and test their hardware, so it’s kind of a smart city pilot playground area where people can test all the hardware they have. The community can get involved and kind of see what IoT technology and smart cities even means to them. 

What could make Atlanta an IoT hub?

I think one of the biggest strengths is Atlanta thrives on partnerships, and that’s something that’s absolutely vital to making IoT technology successful. We’re very fortunate in Atlanta to have strong partnerships with our academic communities—Georgia Tech, Georgia State, Morehouse, Kennesaw. They’re very involved with the business community, so a lot of our companies partner directly with schools like Georgia Tech to have help with the research side of what they’re doing. And that’s a pretty rare thing.

Atlanta also has a lot of the IoT-enabling technologies here. We have strong fiber that runs everywhere… We’re on the list to be a 5G pilot for Sprint, AT&T and Verizon.

These are all rare things to happen in one area that are vital to IoT success moving forward because when all these things start transmitting data, you’ve got to have a way to get it to the end result.

April 9, 2018 - 5:38pm