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Why local, state leaders feel recent transportation tech challenge was a success
Talking Traffic iLghts

In November, teams from around the country and one from overseas came to Forsyth County to help the Georgia Department of Transportation set up a competition for some bright minds to deal with transportation issues in Georgia, and a local technology leader said he wants to see similar competitions in the future.

GDOT recently teamed with the Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce and Digital Ignition, a technology incubator in south Forsyth, for “Talking Traffic Lights,” a software challenge using traffic data to help solve traffic problems and giving the winner a contract with GDOT.

“We really want people to look at us as a technology hub, and that was what we were aiming for working with GDOT,” said Scott Evans, senior technology project manager with the chamber.

The competition featured 36 participants on nine teams from across the U.S., including a team from the Netherlands, and speakers and judges ranging from technology executives to engineers to academics to investors.

The teams used data gathered by GDOT to come up with traffic solutions.

“GDOT actually identified three new ideas that they had not considered prior to the event,” Evans said. “GDOT knew in the data they were collecting that they had a use of what they were going to use the data for, but when we allowed the technology industry to look at it … it was an opportunity for the technology specialists to speak to the traffic specialists and say, ‘Well, we know what you think you can do with it [but] here’s what we can do with it.’”

Evans estimated about 90% of those at the event were from outside the county, which showcased a recent push from business and local leaders to increase Forsyth County’s technology sector.

“It was really, for us as a community, a way to promote our blockchain, [artificial intelligence] and [internet of things] incubators,” he said.

The winning team came out of Iowa and developed an AI solution that filters video from traffic cameras to identify solutions. Evans said the technology could “scrub these videos and find anomalies” impossible to see with just the human eye.

“In their presentation, they showed a video of an SUV that had moved into an intersection and they hesitated making a left-hand turn, but there was no traffic that they should have been hesitating for,” Evans said. “The computer flagged it and said there [could be] an issue [with the road] here; there’s no reason this car should be hesitating in the middle of an intersection.”

Accidents and traffic fatality figures are often considerations when making transportation decisions, and Evans said the new technology could possibly help make those decisions.

As the county tries to increase its technology sector, Evans said he could “absolutely” see more competitions, comparing them to the Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, which holds competitions for government contractors to develop new technology.

While used by the federal government, Evans said states have been less active in holding competitions, though it looks like that could change.

“All we did is take the DARPA model and applied it to a state government agency,” Evans said. “It’s so unique. I’ve been invited to a national transportation summit to talk about this because the transportation industry would like for me to explain to the other 49 state department of transportation commissioners how we were able to pull it off and maybe for them to consider doing the same thing.”