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  • Matthew Chang

The Why Behind Jacksonville’s Autonomous Future

Updated: Aug 1, 2022

The Jacksonville Economic Round-table that took place at the Federal Reserve Bank in Jacksonville provided some of the greatest minds, entrepreneurs, engineers, and economic thought leaders in Jacksonville with an update as to why the smart city initiative has taken root in Jacksonville. Autonomous mass transit and driverless cars are sweeping the nation and Jacksonville is one of the front runners. Justin Dennis, Co-founder of Urban SDK and Matthew Chang, founder of Chang Industrial gave us much insight into the autonomous future of Jacksonville.

There are many things that come into play with autonomous travel and smart cities: money, brains, plans, people, etc. But the biggest and first question is: where? Jacksonville may not seem like it would be one of the cities leading the nation in autonomous mass transit and smart city initiatives, but Justin and Matt give us their thoughts, as leaders in this movement, as to why Jacksonville has been so successful with these projects.

Florida has one of the most aggressive positions towards autonomous vehicles. Our government leaders in Jacksonville and Florida see this as an opportunity to lead the nation and lead the world, which is why they have been pushing this initiative to be as competitive as California or Las Vegas. Jacksonville is leading because we were the ones who wanted to do it. We were competing against San Francisco, Boston, Austin, Texas, Chicago, a lot of places that you would think would at least be political front runners or obvious front runners, but we approached it with the vision of as just a public sector, we can’t innovate. We have to step out of the box for how the public sector normally operates.

We have executive leadership at a state level that is taking a stance to make 20 year decisions and is generating opportunities for the JTA programs, and entrepreneurial start-up’s like ourselves to get into this industry and base it in Florida because we are taking the first step. We must change our mindset. One of the reasons is tech will say things like “Fail fast.” Amazon will say things like “Fail early” or “Fail cheap.” As a public sector with tax-payer dollars we say, “Fail never. How about you get it right the first time?” As we observed public projects, they don’t often go that well. They are over budget, over timeline, over and over. So, we had to borrow a lot of the technology concepts and entrepreneurial concepts that firms like Urban SDK use which enables us as a public sector to be more agile.

As a baseline with any technology, you must prove something on an alpha level before you go to the beta level, but at the same time, you must take risks. So, as a city, if we want to be number 1, and we want to be first, we are going to have to take some risks. If we keep it on the ground level and understand how these autonomous vehicles are going to work, we can do it here in Jacksonville or do it in Las Vegas, so it is a fantastic time to be a Jacksonville resident.

Jacksonville is paving the way in autonomous travel and smart city initiatives, but there is a lot more behind the scenes that many may never consider. In our upcoming articles, we will be discussing more of the specifics of what goes into these types of initiatives and what that has looked like in Jacksonville. Stay tuned for more of our upcoming articles on grants, data, public policy, and the people behind it all.

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