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February 05, 2024 | Katelyn Keenehan

Xtelligent seeks to revolutionize the way city planners look at traffic

Xtelligent is a part of the Sustainable Mobility Accelerator in Chattanooga.

Michael Lim got his start as an urban planner overseas. He spent half a decade with the United Nations in warzone/disaster areas reconstructing infrastructure. Sometimes the solutions, given the situations, were very complex. It required a lot of out-of-the-box thinking to achieve sustainability and efficacy.

Fast forward, that out-of-the-box thinking has served Lim well. Upon returning to the United States, he brought a broader perspective on how financial and technological innovation could have an impact on making cities more sustainable and livable.

He became an advisor for the city of Los Angeles and even helped draft the city’s automated vehicle strategy.

“That’s when I gained a deep insight into some of the gaps in infrastructure in the United States. I learned where the opportunity is, and how data and automation tools could have a meaningful impact on transportation infrastructure,” Lim said.

The founding of Xtelligent

Michael Lim

He stepped out to start Xtelligent, which is a company that develops the technology to enable city engineers and city planners to understand what’s happening on the roadways and augment their capability to better manage the movement of goods and people. Xtelligent aggregates data from several sources, presents data visually in the format of a 3D city model, enables multimodal traffic management, and measures operational and environmental impact.

“The goal is that city planners and engineers will be better empowered with real-time data and automation tools to improve the efficiency and sustainability of their road transportation system,” Lim said.

What does this mean, practically? It means making the city roads and traffic signals smart.

“There’s nothing sexy about a traffic signal,” Lim said. “But it reflects the fundamental ground rule that dictates our movements, communicates with drivers, and it’s a critical lever that directly affects the day-to-day experience of the general public.”

Lim shared that the traffic light system in the United States is antiquated. Across the country, the system hasn’t been updated for decades. He said 98 percent of intersection traffic lights are based on a simple timer and don’t consider what is happening on the roadways on a real-time basis. Those traffic lights could be partially to blame for big backups during rush hour, and getting stuck at a red light, even when no other cars are on the road.

“Cities are constantly changing. You have demographic shifts, new developments, and often greater demand put on the roads. We want to make smart changes based on what’s happening on a real-time basis and leveraging advanced automation tools.” Lim said.

The road to Chattanooga

Now, Lim is in Chattanooga as a part of the Sustainable Mobility Accelerator, which is run by The Company Lab (CO.LAB) and gener8tor. It is a 12-week program that focuses on developing, funding, commercializing, and scaling sustainable technology companies in the transportation sector.

Lim wants to tap into the partnerships and funding side of the accelerator program.

“One of the challenging things about Xtelligent is that we are developing technology where the value created is shared by multiple stakeholders. There’s a lot of positive externalities that benefit the good of the public,” Lim said. “But it also represents a challenge for us from the perspective of coordination, cooperation, and funding.”

On the positive side of things, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has been the biggest funder of Lim’s research and development for the past four years. Xtelligent has been a recipient of two Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) awards from DOE – a Phase I and a Phase II – and is now eligible for a Phase III. The company has also received a $3.6 million Energy Efficient Mobility Systems Research Grant from the DOE.

In Chattanooga, Xtelligent hopes to capitalize on more partnership opportunities, and establish deeper connections with some of the most innovatively minded researchers and public officials in the nation.

“Chattanooga has been very cohesive, and they’ve been very successful in creating an ecosystem across public, private, and research sectors that is innovation-minded. Infrastructure innovation can be difficult given the cross-sectoral collaboration required, high levels of technical risk, and complexities related to regulation, standards, and public procurement processes.  The collaboration they have in Chattanooga is attractive in that it can mitigate these difficulties and make it more likely that the innovators can succeed. In turn, we hope to bring innovative technologies to the region that can improve the day-to-day travel experience of the local residents, improve road safety and local air quality by mitigating unnecessary stop-and-go and idling emissions from vehicles while also protecting pedestrians and cyclists, and create high-quality local jobs,” Lim said.

At the conclusion of the interview, Lim said he hopes to push the envelope on challenging, complicated innovation alongside the village of partners in the region.

“Without that, regardless of what we do, we cannot be successful. So, we are calling out to folks who want to work with us, we would love to work with you. Especially if you have the mindset that you want to work together for long-term, collective impact,” he said.


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