Experiments with autonomous technology in the Atlanta subway – WABE

The mall in Powder Springs is noon and part of the parking lot is blocked.

A crew of four operators, dressed in bright yellow protective vests and talking on headphones, get ready to deliver lunch with the help of a drone. A large pizza box wrapped in foil is attached to the device and a few seconds later the propeller blades begin to rotate and it lifts the drone into the air.

“If you are within a mile of this store during the time the program is included, you will actually be invited to deliver by drone,” said Kevin Karfa, vice president of digital services at Papa John’s.

This pilot program promises pizza delivered to your home in 15 minutes, as long as you live in range.

“After all, how can we deliver pizza to the customer as quickly as possible?” Karfa asked. “So we started looking at the solutions and said, you know what, this looks like a great startup pilot for us.”

The shortage of workers has led many companies to turn to technology as an alternative way to move goods and people.

Papa Jones’ partner in this experiment is Drone Express, a company based in Dayton, Ohio.

“You can’t even go up and get the pizza as fast as we’ll get it, so it’s made for pizza,” said CEO Beth Flipo. The company has been in the drone business since 2019 and began discussions with Papa John’s about pizza delivery a year ago.

“The biggest thing we had to do was develop a winch that would slowly lower the pizza to the ground,” she said. “It simply came to our notice then. It works flawlessly, it can carry a lot of weight, but one of the biggest challenges was to make sure that this winch drops it to a perfect level every time. ”

She says that since we are still in the early stages of drone delivery, there is a lot of human oversight. The law also requires them to keep drones in sight.

But in the end, these drones will do most of this work on their own, using artificial intelligence.

“When you look at a drone, you think there are a lot of moving parts, it’s a mechanical system. “We look at it as an intelligence system and how it communicates with the world around it,” Flipo said. “So it’s just a different way to attack this type of air travel.”

And she says not only food delivery will rely on drone delivery in the coming years.

“We had a lot of construction companies that showed interest. “Many construction sites have been closed due to small items,” she said. “And auto parts. How many of us are stuck by the roadside or have a crash and people can’t pass? Just taking someone’s fire extinguisher can save lives. “

Self-driving shuttles

At Peachtree Corners, Curiosity Lab has helped the community build a reputation as a “living lab” for technology.

So it is not surprising that some of the first self-governing human carriers in Georgia are here.

The fleet of small, autonomous shuttles that run along the Technology Parkway at Peachtree Corners is the product of an Orlando-based technology startup called Beep.

The company’s chief technology officer is Clayton Tino, a graduate of the Technical University of Georgia. Beep has deployed its autonomous shuttles in more than a dozen locations across the country. But Tino says no two places are alike.

“At Peachtree Corners, for example, we’ll take a LiDAR device, drive it the route we tend to operate, and build a 3D map with really high resolution,” Tino said. “Then we will use some semantics about how we expect other road users or potential pedestrians, for example, to behave in this environment to give the shuttle some context.

“From now on, this is a process of really building a route that we expect to work on,” he said.

He says the next step is to increase the speed of the shuttles, while maintaining safety and extending their reach to other areas of the subway in Atlanta and beyond.

Tino says these external factors make autonomy on the road much more challenging than working in the air.

“The good thing about airspace is that it’s very limited and structured,” Tino said. “Since I’m sure you’ve experienced driving in Atlanta, structure is not a word I would use to describe everything that happens on the road.”

For more information on this story, watch this episode of WABE Tech Cast.

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