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May 10,2016 - Babcock Ranch wants to be a testbed for driverless vehicles

This solar town in Florida welcomes autonomous cars

John Beltz Snyder

April 28, 2016

Near Fort Meyers, Florida, just miles from the Gulf of Mexico, a new town is under development with the environment at the forefront. Bordering the 73,000-acre Babcock Ranch Preserve and the 75,000-acre Cecil M. Webb Wildlife Management Area, the town of Babcock Ranch will be powered mostly by solar energy, and will be a test bed forautonomous vehicles.

Sustainability informs every aspect of Babcock Ranch from the ground up, according to developer Syd Kitson, Chairman & CEO of Kitson and Partners. “There were environmental groups that stepped up and said, ‘In order to preserve this land, we need to create this new town, but let’s create the new town in the right way,’ and in the end, it worked.”

To start, Babcock Ranch’s infrastructure is planned with pedestrian and cyclists in mind, rather than trying to accommodate them as an afterthought. “We’re going to have a town square where we hope people will ride a bike to get there, they’ll walk there, anything but drive their car.” When people do need to use a car to get around, Babcock Ranch hopes they’ll use shared, autonomous transport. The town is taking advantage of Florida’s driverless car-friendly legislation to make it a test ground for autonomous vehicles. Babcock Ranch plans to employ an Uber-esque hailing system for driverless cars

The town’s transport systems also influence the design of the living spaces in Babcock Ranch. “We’re really looking closely at parking, the size of the streets, what ultimately that’s going to look like when you have driverless cars within the community,” says Kitson. “It will change the design parameters. As these things become more commonplace, people may eventually turn to just one car because they know they can use an autonomous vehicle. So what do you do with the garage space eventually?”

Babcock Ranch has partnered with Florida Power & Light to build a new solar farm with 350,000 solar panels. “When you turn a light switch on during the day at Babcock Ranch, it will be powered by solar energy, and when the sun goes down at night, it will then be powered by natural gas,” says Kitson. With that combination of sources, “Babcock Ranch will have the cleanest form of energy of anywhere in the United States.”

Eventually, Babcock Ranch hopes to rely less and less on the grid at night. “The holy grail for renewable energy is figuring out how to store it so you don’t need to turn to the grid at night,” says Kitson. “We’re talking to several companies about how we can do that, even at a neighborhood scale, almost like a micro-community of a system.” Luckily for the residents of Babcock Ranch, companies like Tesla and Daimler are working on just that sort of thing.