PART 2: UT Chattanooga playing key role in “Smart Community Collaborative”

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second article in a two-part series focused on the new “Chattanooga Smart Community Collaborative” and the key role that the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga plays in the initiative.)

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

Reinhold Mann, Deputy Vice Chancellor for Research at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC), fully understands and appreciates the importance of interdisciplinary research and how it can grow an organization while also creating significant economic impact for others.

So, as he helped lead the development of a new strategy for UTC’s SimCenter as its Interim Director, he began interacting with Ken Hays at The Enterprise Center in Chattanooga and Jim Ingraham at EPB. Those conversations revealed what Mann describes as “parallel initiatives that fed on each other.”

The result is two complementary, connected efforts – a citywide initiative named the “Chattanooga Smart Community Collaborative” and a UTC specific effort represented by the new Center for Urban Informatics and Progress (CUIP), led by UTC Professor Mina Sartipi, an expert in wireless sensor technology and computer science.

Collectively, they can position Chattanooga as a world leader in Smart City research and commercialization, advance the companies that are located there or will move to Chattanooga, and accelerate efforts at the university that aspires to increase its research profile.

The less than one-year old CUIP is playing a key day-to-day role coordinating the work of the Collaborative that itself is new, having been announced only in October. Both are designed to leverage the gigabit network that EPB built.

“We have three application domains,” Mann says of the Collaborative. They are mobility (“improve traffic flow while achieving safety and minimizing environmental impact”), energy and environment (“leverage technology and modeling analysis to achieve improvements in the following outcomes: resilience, reliability, security, affordability, flexibility and sustainability”), and healthcare (“foster development of cutting edge medical technologies that improve outcomes or extend life”).

They align very well with the priorities of CUIP – mobility, healthcare, water and waste, public safety, and social science.

In the case of mobility, it would be natural that Mann, a former Associate Laboratory Director at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), would see opportunities to connect with the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) largest science and energy lab.

“We have conversations underway with ORNL and DOE’s Vehicle Technologies Office,” he says. Those conversations center on connected or autonomous vehicles and the all-important communication that must occur for safety. Here’s a link to a YouTube video from 2017 describing some of the very relevant research underway at UTC on that topic.

“We (the Collaborative and CUIP) are starting to implement a testbed on ML King from Broad Street to the intersection with Peeples Street,” Mann added. “You can do things like pedestrian and traffic patterns and find better ways to manage traffic.” (NOTE: This flyer {MLK Smart City Corridor Flyer} describes that project.)

There’s also a project underway involving researchers at Vanderbilt University and CARTA, the city’s transit system, to optimize mass transit services.

On the healthcare side, Mann cited work in the area of patient rehabilitation after a stroke that leverages expertise at Erlanger Health System, another of the founding partners of the Collaborative. Its nationally-certified Southeast Regional Stroke Center is investigating ways to leverage networks like EPB’s to instrument those who have survived a stroke, gather data, and tailor rehabilitation to those measures.

Regardless of the area of emphasis, Mann says the Collaborative has made user input a top priority.

“We need to engage citizens to understand what’s most important to them,” he says. In that regard, Chandra Ward, a UTC Assistant Professor of Sociology, is part of the citizen engagement efforts, setting-up a number of focus group sessions.

As both initiatives continue to evolve, Mann cites the important intersections that are occurring between the public sector and the private sector including the rapidly evolving entrepreneurial community for which Chattanooga is known nationally.

“We’ve got a really unique thing going,” he says.

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