How Atlanta is transforming itself into one of the top smart cities in the world

Cynthia Curry, director IoT ecosystem expansion at the Metro Atlanta Chamber, outlines the areas of emphasis city and business leaders in Atlanta, GA, identified to transform Atlanta into a leading smart city.

How Atlanta is transforming itself into one of the top smart cities in the world Cynthia Curry, director IoT ecosystem expansion at the Metro Atlanta Chamber, outlines the areas of emphasis city and business leaders in Atlanta, GA, identified to transform Atlanta into a leading smart city.

As Atlanta transforms into a leading smart city, TechRepublic's Tonya Hall spoke with Metro Atlanta Chamber's Cynthia Curry, director of IoT Ecosystem Expansion, who explains what local leaders targeted as the key areas for the changes. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.

Tonya Hall: Making Atlanta smarter. Welcome Cynthia.

Cynthia Curry: Thank you very much. Happy to be here.

Hall: So what do you do in your role as director of IoT Ecosystem Expansion?

Curry: Yeah, I get asked that a lot. A lot of people ask me, "What would you say you do here?" So, my role as IoT Ecosystem Expansion Director is a lot to build up the companies in Atlanta. and support the companies in Atlanta that are in the IoT ecosystem and the mobile space. Help them grow, make sure they're connected with the right people. Make connections between customers and clients, help project their message of what they're doing, share the stories of the innovation that they're doing and then also attract new companies to Atlanta to put their headquarters here, or put new offices here so that they can grow in Atlanta. So, I'm part of the economic development team at Metro Atlanta Chamber and virtually, our job is to help the economic growth of Atlanta, and grow jobs in Atlanta. And so, my role specifically is to do that within the IoT, and the mobile space, and shine the light on all the innovation that's happening in the city.

Hall: What is Atlanta's definition of a smart city?

Curry: I think of a smart city as a city that takes data collected with all the various ways that they collect them, which are varied and many, many, and creating insights out of that to help the consumers live better lives. And the City of Atlanta has a very similar view on that. They call it democratizing the data, using that data to better the citizens' lives and using it to spread the word of how they can create a better experience in Atlanta and a better life in Atlanta. So, kind of taking a lot of things that people don't understand and sometimes get nervous about, and making it improve the lives of the community and making life easier, making people safer. So, taking that data that's being generated from all the smart city projects that's happening and creating insight from it, that helps improve the community.

SEE: IT leader's guide to the rise of smart cities, volume 3 (Tech Pro Research)

Hall: So, you talked about the smart city projects that you have. So, what are the smart city initiatives that Atlanta has implemented?

Curry: So Atlanta has really been ahead of the game. We started a little bit later, but SmartATL is the smart-city initiative that's in Atlanta, and we launched a pilot, or several pilots last year in September, and they have a plethora of smart products that are going on. There's five different areas in the city where smart projects are going on. The main one is the smart corridor and it is in front of the hottest place in Atlanta, Ponce City Market. So it runs from Northside Avenue all the way down past the Ponce City Market and there's several different things happening there. Just some examples. We have intelligent lighting system, so traffic lights, that are all built to react according to what's happening in real time rather than on a timer. Some of the advantages that we've gotten out of that, if it's reduced traffic time after big events by 25-percent. We've already seen in six months, that's happened.

They have a smart recycling project, which is super, super cool. And that is basically, they've taken the dumpsters that collect the trash and also the trucks that go around and collect it, and they've sensored both. So the trucks are basically moving data centers and they collect information about the traffic and what's happening so they can do route optimization. And then the dumpsters are censored and they collect all kinds of information about how full the dumpster is, what kind of matter is it. Is it organic matter, is it paper matter. So, but if it's doesn't have to be picked up and it's not a higher priority, it can wait. That has saved the city so far, again, just in six months, over $100,000 in recycling. They have some initiatives around crime. So, it's smart crime prevention. So, the light have the two stick sensors on them and when a gunshot happens, which doesn't happen often, but when it does happen, for it can be register the gunshot within four miles and it tells exactly what kind of gun it is. And then they automatically dispatched the location, the type of gun to the EMTs and to the emergency services, so that they're automatically dispatch. So there doesn't have to be a phone call, so that saved a lot of lives.

We have intelligent lighting in that area, which is a joint venture of AT&T and GE, which, adjusts the lighting in the area and makes it more sustainable. So, the City of Atlanta really has four pillars that they put all of their projects around. If it doesn't meet one of the four pillars, they generally don't do it and that is a safety for the citizens, operational transparency so that things are easier for citizens to access and for them to see. So, everything that they've done really revolves around those four pillars, and that's one of the reasons that they've been really successful in some of the work that they've done. Everything has a purpose and everything generally leads back to benefiting the community and helping make their lives better. So, it's pretty interesting, some of the different advantages that we've seen in such a short time already,

Hall: And although you're already receiving some, certainly some cost savings from your investment, how are you attracting capital and funding to create even a smarter city?

Curry: Well, that's one of my biggest roles is to kind of help Atlanta come up as an investment future for different companies. We do a lot of promoting about what's happening here. We have a lot of events. My group specifically goes to various conferences and travels all around the world talking about Atlanta and what we're doing, and making sure that the VC community knows what's happening here. One of the big things that we're doing, we always try to create partnerships. I mentioned earlier that one of our roles is to connect companies with clients or customers.

So for instance, the smart corridor is a perfect example. They're almost all PPPs, which are Public Private Partnerships. So we are connecting the enterprise companies with startup companies, so that the startup companies have a solution that the enterprise company can't really solve, and they connect together and that is hugely, hugely beneficial for both parties. And that attracts a lot more companies to come to Atlanta, because they have the ability to work with the smaller companies or bigger companies. Atlanta has one of the largest concentration of Fortune 500 and 1,000 companies in Atlanta. We have 16 fortune 500 companies and 26 Fortune 1000. So, a lot of those have created innovation centers here. And so that just creates a whole ecosystem of innovation and partnership, which really is the key.

SEE: Top 20 smart city governments worldwide (TechRepublic)

Hall: There's been a lot of conversation, especially in technology, about, if you have a startup, should you be in San Francisco? Should you be in Silicon Valley? Should you be in that hub? But that's not really the case anymore. How vibrant is Atlanta's startup community and what are you doing to incubate startups?

Curry: It's hugely, hugely, hugely huge startup market. Forbes rated us the No. 2 tech Mecca of the future. Georgia has been ranked the best state to do business for six years in a row because of the cost of living. Because of the communication that the companies go together, of the workforce availability, lots of different reasons. So, although Silicon Valley is really known for that, it's really hard to scale there, because the costs are so prohibitive for growth and the talent is almost impossible to get. So Atlanta is number three for attracting engineering talent. We have Georgia Tech here, and the start-up community is hugely vibrant.

We've got over 40, 45 accelerators in the city, and I mentioned earlier that almost all of the huge enterprise companies here have incubators or accelerators and they're all working on cutting edge problems, a lot around IoT and they're mostly centered around Georgia Tech area. An area we call Tech Square and it is just a hotbed of innovation and vibrancy. You walk around and there's just ideas flowing all over the place. So we're attracting, seeing more and more and more of those companies as they come in, and it's affordable.

And again, the partnerships come into play with that because we really helped facilitate partnerships between the enterprise companies and startup companies, and we really nurture those relationships. And that's one of the main roles that my team does, is that when a company comes here, we helped them get on their feet. We help them get introduced to the right people. We help project the message of what they're doing. Facebook, we just posted it, announced that they are putting 100 jobs here, so we're helping spread that message of what they're doing and making sure that they are on stage and that they're connected with the right people. So, that's really rare for a city and for a chamber to do. So, that's one way that we do it.

Hall: Well, I think that being a smart city is definitely got a lot to do. And your roadmap looks clear. It looks like you guys are working to be a top smart city. Cynthia, if somebody wants to find out more about what you're doing, maybe they want to be a part of your ecosystem or contribute to your smart city efforts. How can they do that?

Curry: Yeah. So you can contact me. I'm on Twitter @geekthyme. I know I'm a geek at heart, so it's T-H-Y-M-E because I also love food, so geekthyme. That's my Instagram and my Twitter. You can also look at Metro Atlanta Chamber's website and get some information by them, or follow us at ATLIOT.

Hall: Sounds great. And you know, if you want to follow me and more of my interviews, you can do that right here on TechRepublic or ZdNet, or find me on Twitter. I like to tweet too, at @TonyaHallradio, or Find me on facebook by searching for the Tonya Hall show. Until next time.

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Cynthia Curry, director IoT ecosystem expansion at the Metro Atlanta Chamber