Tech Watch: Forsyth County could become home to one of Georgia’s first ‘Smart Cities”

Justine Lookenott

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Forsyth County could become home to one of Georgia’s first ‘Smart Cities”(Image by Forsyth County Government)

(Forsyth County, GA) On Thursday, October 27, several elected officials from Georgia, Forsyth County and the City of Alpharetta gathered at Digital Ignition to celebrate the official naming of “The Technology Corridor.”

Early in 2022, the Georgia state legislature officially named the section of SR 400 stretching from Mansell Road at exit 8 to SR 20 at exit 14 as The Technology Corridor. This area of road contains the highest concentration of technology businesses and ventures in the state, largely due to partnerships between the private sector and city and county governments.

During a Forsyth County commissioner work session on October 11, Scott Evans, the senior technology project manager for the Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce, approached the board with an idea fitting for The Technology Corridor - creating a “Smart City” lab on roads around Halcyon.

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Local officials celebrate the official naming of The Technology Corridor at Digital Ignition on October 28(Image by Forsyth County Government)

This is not the first time Forsyth County has looked into investing in ground-breaking technology.

In 2019, Digital Ignition - a business launching pad in Alpharetta - was home to a technology hackathon called Talking Traffic Lights. It was held in conjunction with the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) and Forsyth County as a way to recruit companies (including international businesses) to activate tech partnerships to drive traffic safety programs.

While this was supposed to be a launching pad for more technology events, the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to it. But recently, Evans was approached by GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry about reviving their original idea.

“I said yeah, but it needs to be bleeding edge,” Evans said. “Why don't we look at something smart cities because there are already commercial project products now using talking traffic lights. Smart cities is where the bleeding edge is going. And he [McMurray] said that's a great idea.”

What is a Smart City and why does Forsyth County want to be one?

According to Evans, smart cities are communities where local governments use data to make better decisions and offer more efficient services. At the same time, Forsyth County’s five-year economic development plan calls for emerging technology such as blockchain, artificial intelligence and IoT.

“What I would like to do is for us to create a living lab of technology around Halcyon in the McFarland and Ronald Reagan area to where we have the technology, just like Peachtree Corners has their Curiosity Lab for the autonomous vehicle, we want the companies that are building and creating smart cities to come here and work on top of our infrastructure,” Evans said.

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The definition of a Smart City(Image by Forsyth County Government)

The ultimate goal of the lab would be to attract more technology companies to the area, which would help the economy, and to improve the county’s infrastructure and prepare it for the future.

The lab would be joining Curiosity Lab as being one of the first of its kind in the country. While Curiosity Lab is very similar to what Evans has in mind, it focuses more on autonomous vehicles.

How will the lab operate?

The lab Evans has in mind would consist of using smart technologies to improve the use of traffic cameras at intersections.

Traffic cameras are limited in what they can do, they can only capture what happens in their view and, while they do record accidents and other events on the road, most of the footage is useless.

SmartPoint is a technology company that creates “digital infrastructure that enables next-gen applications on the network edge,” according to its website. More specifically, “SmartPoint is a data center on the sidewalk” that looks like a digital advertising billboard.

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SmartPoint is a technology company that creates “digital infrastructure that enables next-gen applications on the network edge”(Image by Forsyth County Government)

The plan is to install several of these data centers (which will be donated to the county by SmartPoint) at intersections around Halcyon to utilize artificial intelligence to improve traffic camera functions. Using AI, the SmartPoint devices can take the data from the cameras and put it to good use.

“You can put 24 cameras at an intersection and use AI so that when an accident happens, within a second of the accident, fire trucks can be automatically notified that there’s been an accident,” Evans said. “It can send that data, instead of sending the live feed for 24 cameras, it can send that information of an anomaly across the internet so you’re not clogging up the internet. 99.99 percent of traffic data is useless data.”

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A map of where Smartpoint devices will be installed around Halcyon(Image by Forsyth County Government)

The SmartPoint devices don’t have cameras themselves but will use the cameras already installed at the desired locations. The County will install more cameras if needed.

Evans said the use of these data centers is unlimited. Not only can artificial intelligence be used to alert emergency services as soon as an accident happens, but it can also improve traffic patterns, and even detect gunshots or glass breaking. Companies from around the world can test and perfect this smart technology on infrastructure right in Forsyth County.

Dennis Holland, the chief commercial officer for SmartPoint, also spoke at the meeting.

“Why I refer to it as bleeding edge is we’re are building these micro data centers that give you the ability to solve some of today’s problems but also give you this infrastructure, this on-net infrastructure, and solve and build for and allow other applications to be encouraged to be used on the same platform,” Holland said. “And so, say for example the Curiosity Lab and what Scott is envisioning to do here is to create that environment where we've got the infrastructure in place that can add additional applications and then you can start to solve other issues.”

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A traffic camera on exit 13 in Forsyth County(Image by Forsyth County Government)

Evans said they plan to host another technology event related to the lab in the spring with GDOT (similar to the Talking Traffic Lights event) and eventually spread the lab onto roads in surrounding areas.

“What we’d like to do is set up this lab, its seven devices around the Halcyon area, and what we’d like to do is after that event, then we would like to partner with our neighbors,” Evans said. “The City of Johns Creek, the City of Peachtree Corners, and create down [Highway] 141 a whole ‘smart corridors’ and then invite the world here to create on top of our infrastructure.”

The commissioners voted in favor of allowing staff to start looking into the legal details of what needs to be done to start the process to allow for the smart cities lab.

To watch the full October 11 Board of Commissioners work session meeting, click here. Information on Smart Point can be found at smartpoint.io.

If you have a news tip in Forsyth County, contact Justine Lookenott at justine.lookenott@newsbreak.com.

To learn more about The Technology Corridor, read "Forsyth County officially home to part of “The Technology Corridor.”

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I cover local news in Forsyth County, GA. My debut into the writing world began at the age of 10 when I won an essay contest in Around Acworth Magazine in which I wrote about spending the summer with my pet goat, Eclair. Since graduating from Kennesaw State University, I have been published in several newspapers and magazines in the Atlanta area including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Atlanta School Guide, What Now Atlanta, Newcomer Magazine, the Marietta Daily Journal and the Cherokee Tribune.

Forsyth County, GA
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