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‘The Future Is Here’: Self-Driving Cars Ride Through Midtown Atlanta

Bryan Mulligan, president of Applied Information, shows off how the semi-autonomous 2017 Tesla Model S P100D navigates North Avenue.
Bryan Mulligan, president of Applied Information, shows off how the semi-autonomous 2017 Tesla Model S P100D navigates North Avenue.
Credit Kaitlin Kolarik / WABE

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The city of Atlanta unveiled North Avenue as its first “Smart Corridor” on Thursday.

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The “Smart Corridor” is the first in the city to collect data from cars, bikes and pedestrians to adjust the traffic lights and send information back to people on the street.

In a sleek, blue Tesla Model S, Bryan Mulligan has his hands off the steering wheel. As it drives along North Avenue, his phone tells him any time a cyclist is nearby or the light will change.

“The point of this is showing, look, that these traffic lights are connected to the cars. It’s telling you that the light is going to turn green,” Mulligan said. “The car’s driving itself. This is in downtown Atlanta today. It’s not some mystical thing in the future.”

Mulligan is president of the tech company Applied Information, based in Suwanee. His company developed the technology that connects traffic signals and sensors to cellphones on the 4-mile stretch of road along North Avenue.

“I rate this as the most sophisticated connected and autonomous vehicle test environment in the country,” Mulligan said.

The $3 million project, which extends from Ponce City Market to Georgia Tech, was funded by the Renew Atlanta Infrastructure bond.

Faye DiMassimo said the city has installed technology in some of its fire trucks to take advantage of the Smart Corridor.

“Technology that enables it to hold the lights green for those emergency vehicles when they’re in route to an emergency so that we can cut response times,” DiMassimo said.

Anyone with a smartphone in the area can sign up to receive notifications of the approaching emergency vehicle. The emergency priority system uses radio, cellular and GPS technology to locate the vehicles and turn the lights green.

“It’s like a full complement of things that are all about the Internet of things and everything connected to everything,” DiMassimo said. “But I think our real message that this is not about the future, this is really about now. The future is here.”

The city is now working on another “Smart Corridor” on Campbellton Road in southwest Atlanta that would incorporate data from MARTA buses and a stretch of road in the Buckhead neighborhood known as the “Buckhead Loop.”