The 2010s will be defined by the smart-tech that built the decade. From autonomous vehicles to cell phones, home utilities to drones, the devices that shape our lives have been vastly reimagined. One of the biggest challenges our society will face in the next decade is how to fully utilize and embrace these new technologies.
FreightWaves CEO Craig Fuller is a strong proponent of embracing digital technology. As a native of Chattanooga, Tennessee, he recently shared his thoughts on the technological direction his hometown should be heading.
“Steve Case has said that Chattanooga is the ‘Silicon Valley of trucking’; we think it’s a much broader story,” Fuller said. “As logistics technology becomes more important to our lives, the city of Chattanooga has the chance to define what the future looks like.”
He continued, “We have the chance to define the future much as Silicon Valley did in the Internet Age. In the Mobility Age, we have the chance to create that future for our community and provide a lot of really high-paying jobs.”
As ‘the Gateway to the Deep South,’ Chattanooga is a geographic center point for the eastern U.S. The city has a rich history in logistics, first rising to prominence as a railroad hub in the mid-1800s. In the modern age, the Chattanooga region is known as ‘Freight Alley’ and is home to some of the largest carriers and logistics companies in the country including U.S. Xpress, Covenant Transport and Kenco.
Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said, “We want to be a city where startups grow because things are changing faster than ever and innovation is the order of the day. Unless you’re changing along with the times, you’re going to get left behind.”
In recent decades Chattanooga has emerged as a tech hub as well. EPB, the city’s electric and telecommunications company, has offered customers one-gigabyte internet speeds since 2010, giving Chattanooga residents some of the fastest internet speeds in the world.
EPB Vice President of Strategic Research Jim Ingraham shares Fuller’s vision of defining Chattanooga’s digital future. He believes that in order to achieve new heights, an advanced digital infrastructure must be in place.
Ingraham led EPB’s city-wide Smart Grid development plan that enables the power grid to ‘self-heal’ by identifying the location of disrupted lines and finding ways to reroute electricity to prevent outages.
“We’ve built what we believe is the most advanced and automated electric distribution system you’ll find anywhere in the world today,” Ingraham said. “It is enabled by a fiber-optic network that passes every home and business in our service territory and provides the most robust internet you’ll find anywhere in the world.”
Taking advantage of Chattanooga’s advanced digital infrastructure is University of Tennessee at Chattanooga professor Dr. Mina Sartipi. She is the director of the University’s tech-startup Center of Urban Informatics and Progress (CUIP).
CUIP studies traffic patterns throughout the city to make downtown Chattanooga’s streets safer and more efficient for both drivers and pedestrians. Sartipi’s team aggregates data from a testbed of street cameras set up around the downtown area to determine which areas are high-risk for accidents and improve the efficiency of stoplight waiting times.
“The goal is to first study where the accidents are happening and if we can learn from that information, to then predict for example, on a Thursday afternoon when it’s raining these are the areas that have a higher chance of accidents,” Sartipi said. “If we can identify those spots, then we could have police officers and emergency vehicles allocated to those areas. That will help save more lives.”
She believes autonomous vehicles will inevitably roam Chattanooga’s streets and in order to prepare for the upcoming wave, safety systems need to be created. Sartipi noted that communication is key and that vehicles should have the ability to “talk” to each other and the urban infrastructure around them.
“The driver and the vehicle have their limits on what they can see around them,” Sartipi said. “If we enabled them to communicate with each other and with the infrastructure we can increase safety.”
Many are skeptical of the idea of technology being in the driver’s seat and trust that their own driving abilities are sufficient for roadways. However, Fuller predicts autonomous vehicles are the way of the future and is confident that their benefits will save an unprecedented number of lives.
“Autonomous vehicles will save about half a million lives a year, which is roughly equivalent to the population of the city of Atlanta,” Fuller said.