Atlanta BeltLine Kicks-Off a Digital Smart Cities Initiative Connecting Communities through Technology
Thursday, August 17th, 2023
Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. is kicking off its digital inclusion strategy and announcing the partners for the organization’s first smart cities demonstration project. Smart cities projects use digital technologies in urban areas in a strategic and inclusive manner to improve quality of life for residents.
In partnership with Atlanta-based Fortune 500 and local disadvantaged business enterprise (DBE) companies, strategy development and demonstration pilot sites will bring together a wide spectrum of partners. Two interactive pop-up sites along the Atlanta BeltLine will provide Atlantans with tech-driven experiences to help bridge the digital divide by providing free public Wi-Fi, an autonomous grocery store, information on BeltLine activities, smart trash cans, maps and more in the coming months. It’s part of a pilot project with Fortune 500 and local businesses to address urban issues such as access to food, technology and wellness.
According to the Federal Communications Commission, approximately 19 million Americans—6 percent of the population—still lack access to fixed broadband service at threshold speeds. That number rises as high as 25-33 percent for people living in certain areas along the BeltLine as sourced through the American Community Survey.
“The Atlanta BeltLine uses public infrastructure as a vehicle for catalyzing economic growth and development. This digital inclusion and smart cities initiative will play a major role in defining our legacy and impact as an organization as we seek to leverage our telecommunication infrastructure to open up new economic opportunities to residents, students, business owners, seniors and the community at-large,” said Clyde Higgs, President and CEO at Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. “The BeltLine itself is a testing ground for innovation. It’s a place where we can use technology to solve problems facing our communities that could be scaled city-wide and as a case study for cities across the country.”
This project will be enabled by eX² Technology’s early investment in a robust fiber optic network installed along the Atlanta BeltLine. The project will engage community feedback and data to help identify the types of technologies that might be considered for implementation on the BeltLine corridor and serve the adjacent residents, businesses and schools. The outcome of the initiative will be to develop a long-term approach to solving urban issues, toenhance the BeltLine user experience, and to create long-term funding sources as well.
Leading the strategy effort is Honeywell, a global leader in the smart cities space, and N-Ovate Business Solutions, a metro Atlanta-based innovation firm focused on creating strategy around digital transformation, data modernization, and cybersecurity. They will seek to identify and collect data to better understand the digital divide in adjacent neighborhoods and how technology could help solve those issues. They will help develop recommendations for addressing the technology gaps that were exacerbated for local residents and business owners, especially on the south and west sides of the Atlanta BeltLine loop, during the pandemic.
The Rocket Community Fund, the philanthropic partner of Rocket Companies, is providing financial support for the development of the strategy and additional resources to support the initiative.
Pop-Up Sites Showcase Innovative Technology
Atlanta BeltLine and eX² Technology will transform two areas along the BeltLine into smart city pop-ups, showcasing pilot technologies. This demonstration project will garner additional community engagement and usage data to inform future BeltLine strategies. Sites on the Southside and Eastside Trails will feature high-speed internet powered by ABI’s fiber network. Moreover, each of the pilot areas will house a Nourish + Bloom Market, a Black-owned autonomous grocery store; a Rove IQ interactive wayfinding kiosk; a Big Belly smart waste bin; and, adjacent to the corridor, a BlinkElectrical Vehicle (EV) charging station, among others. Georgia Green Energy Services, a local certified Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) and Small Business Enterprise (SBE) will deploy and manage the electrical needs at both sites. A steering committee of industry experts is helping to provide further insight and opportunities to inform the project. Microsoft is also sharing a fellow with the BeltLine to support this initiative through the Georgia Tech.
The BeltLine’s smart cities demonstration sites also will feature the first U.S. deployment of the Honeywell City Suite, an artificial intelligence-enabled IoT platform serving over 75 cities globally and improving the lives of over 100 million people worldwide. The sites’ technology will be integrated and driven by Honeywell’s City Suite Software, acting like the central hub of the project, which seamlessly aggregates information from multiple city systems including environment, emergency services, safety and security, and utilities, among other areas – in a single, unified view. Through the Honeywell platform, the BeltLine can collect information to make data-driven decisions through analytic technology to improve trail services, enhance the user experience, and monitor the flow of disposable and recyclable materials, supporting a more resilient BeltLine and sustainable environment.
eX² Technology designed and installed a 15.7-mile multi-duct, fiber optic network on the Atlanta BeltLine in 2021 to create a new funding source through the sale of fiber to support the long-term economic viability of the BeltLine and enable high-speed technology on the corridor. eX² Technology manages and maintains the communications system as well as serves as the BeltLine’s exclusive commercialization partner. “Our dark fiber commercialization efforts have supported the development of this Smart City Pilot as well as promoted economic development and digital inclusivity,” said Jay Jorgensen, Chief Operating Officer at eX² Technology. “Our company has a long history of partnering with communities and organizations like the BeltLine and bringing multiple partners together to develop innovative, technology-rich programs. We continue to seek additional partners who want to establish their services within the Atlanta market and have worked with the Atlanta BeltLine to reduce the price of the dark fiber to further promote new partnerships.”
For Honeywell, this initiative offers a chance to showcase its technology in an area where it has a major corporate presence. “Our Atlanta office is just one mile from the Atlanta BeltLine, so we are not only professionally invested in the success of the BeltLine but also personally as many of our employees use the BeltLine every day,” said Matthew Britt, General Manager, Smart and Sustainable Cities, Honeywell. “We’re looking forward to growing our relationship with the eX2 team and are thrilled that our first project together is supporting the Atlanta BeltLine’s mission of improving social equity along the corridor and improving the community long term.”
As a leader in the digital equity space, the Rocket Community Fund is committed to ensuring their efforts are moving the needle across the country to bridge the digital divide. “At the Rocket Community Fund, we firmly believe that digital connectivity is foundational to success in every aspect of life,” saidRob Lockett, Team Leader, National Housing Stability at the Rocket Community Fund. “We’re thrilled to partner once again with the Atlanta BeltLine team to transform the way residents and visitors at the BeltLine connect digitally with employment, education, healthcare, and community.”
The Rocket Community Fund’s commitment expands its partnership with the BeltLine. Previous collaborations with Neighbor-to-Neighbor program focused on evaluating homeowner and renter community needs and connecting residents with critical housing stability resources and funding for the Legacy Resident Retention Program, which provides home stability for legacy residents.
The Atlanta BeltLine has more dark fiber available and is looking for additional service providers who can provide technology to end users. For more information, please visit https://ex2technology.com/atlantabeltlinefiber.
Article courtesy of Metro Atlanta CEO, published August 17, 2023.