In what might seem like an unlikely partnership at first glance, Delta Airlines is investing in an autonomous vehicle (AV) research project with the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) and Curiosity Lab to identify ways that automated vehicles could benefit its customers and employees.
Delta will contribute seed funding for the project, and researchers from all three partners will have access to Curiosity Lab’s 1.5 miles (2.4km) AV test track and smart city living laboratory situated in the Atlanta suburb of Peachtree Corners. As AV research advances across the world, Delta sees potential applications for autonomous cars, trucks or buses at airports and beyond, with the new technology helping it improve customer experience and employee safety. For example, automated vehicles could help customers make tight connections across an airport, they could deliver delayed baggage to customers or transport aircraft parts to airports.
The collaboration will make use of Curiosity Lab’s AV vehicle and smart city living laboratory that features: 5G mobile data connectivity, DSRC (Dedicated Short-Range Communications) units, smart infrastructure such as connected traffic lights, a dedicated fiber-optic data network, a 25,000 square foot technology incubator, 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 and allows ‘real-world’ interaction with people and vehicles going about their daily lives.
“Driving the leading edge of emerging technology, like we’ve done with biometrics by launching the first fully biometric terminal in the USA, means we can help shape how industry adopts it,” said Gil West, Delta’s chief operating officer. “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. This program is an important part of our strategy to invest in solutions that empower customers and employees, reduce the stresses of travel and redefine flying over the next five years and decades to come. The possibilities for autonomous vehicles are broad and well worth our investment, even though they remain speculative.”
Debra Lam, managing director for smart cities and inclusive innovation at Georgia Tech, said, “This is a wonderful example of industry-university-local government coming together to advance innovative solutions to the built environment and mobility. Providing access to more than US$4m in infrastructure will help our researchers test new technologies and further our mission of serving our community through innovation. Providing access to such infrastructure will help our researchers test new technologies and further our mission of serving our community through innovation.”
Betsy Plattenburg, executive director of Curiosity Lab at Peachtree Corners, added, “Our 5G-enabled living laboratory will give Georgia Tech and Delta 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. We will also provide those researchers an opportunity to collaborate with other industry leaders and focus their research on immediate challenges and results.”