Georgia Tech’s Autonomous Vehicle Research Gets a Real-World Boost through Partnership with Delta, Curiosity Lab


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A new partnership with Delta Air Lines and Curiosity Lab at Peachtree Corners will give Georgia Tech researchers access to a real-life environment to test autonomous vehicles and smart city technologies.

The collaboration, announced Sept. 5, will allow Georgia Tech’s Smart Cities and Inclusive Innovation initiative to offer seed funding from Delta for projects across campus. Researchers will test their ideas and technologies in Curiosity Lab’s living laboratory in Peachtree Corners.

“This is a wonderful example of industry-university-local government coming together to advance innovative solutions to the built environment and mobility,” said Debra Lam, managing director for Smart Cities and Inclusive Innovation at Georgia Tech. “Providing access to such infrastructure will help our researchers test new technologies and further our mission of serving our community through innovation.”

The backbone of the partnership is Curiosity Lab’s 1.5-mile autonomous vehicle test track. Owned by the city, it has 5G mobile data connectivity, smart infrastructure like connected traffic lights, a dedicated fiber-optic data network, and an operations center where researchers can track data from all the connected devices and sensors on the track. The track is set in a commercial office park in Peachtree Corners, just northeast of Atlanta, and allows interaction with people and vehicles going about their daily lives.

“Our 5G-enabled living laboratory will give Georgia Tech researchers the opportunity to push the frontier of emerging technology in a real-world setting that is almost impossible to replicate in a closed lab,” said Betsy Plattenburg, executive director of Curiosity Lab at Peachtree Corners. “Curiosity Lab also will provide those researchers an opportunity to collaborate with other industry leaders and focus their research on immediate challenges and results.” 

While it might seem counterintuitive for Delta to be interested in cars, especially the driverless variety, the advances that emerge from this partnership could benefit customers and employees, according to Delta Chief Operating Officer Gil West.

“Driving the leading edge of emerging technology means Delta can help shape how industry adopts it,” West said. “Autonomous vehicle technology is one of those innovations we see as having the potential to improve employee safety, the customer experience and operational performance, and this partnership will help us explore all of those possibilities.” 

As autonomous vehicle research advances across the world, Delta sees potential applications for autonomous cars, trucks or buses at airports and beyond. For example, autonomous vehicles could help customers make tight connections across an airport, deliver delayed baggage to customers, or transport aircraft parts to airports.

West said this collaboration is an important part of the global airline’s strategy to invest in solutions that empower customers and employees, reduce the stresses of travel, and redefine the future of flying. 

The collaboration builds on Georgia Tech’s autonomous mobility and infrastructure work, which spans the Georgia Tech Research Institute, the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, the Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Machines, the Office of Parking and Transportation Services, and Smart Cities and Inclusive Innovation.

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