CARLSBAD — Imagine a futuristic place where robots carry your groceries home and automated, driverless golf carts pick you up at the dry cleaners and deliver you to the doorstep of your suburban abode several blocks away.
Now imagine that neighborhood in North County, within the next decade.
That was the picture painted Thursday by developer Randy Goodson and the chief of a Carlsbad robotics company who said they’re teaming up to create a virtual rail system within the massive Lilac Hills Ranch community that Goodson wants to build on 600 acres of semirural land north of Escondido.
The pair held a demonstration Thursday to announce their collaboration, just a few weeks before county supervisors are set to decide whether Goodson’s company, Accretive Investments Inc., should be granted a General Plan amendment that would allow the housing development to move forward.
Some critics scoffed at the timing of the event, calling it a high-tech publicity stunt.
But Goodson and 5D Robotics CEO David Bruemmer said the automated features would fit perfectly into the “village” type community Goodson has proposed — a 1,746-home neighborhood with parks and commercial businesses where people would be able to walk everywhere.
Bruemmer said positioning sensors would be built into light poles within the development, allowing different types of robots to maneuver safely and precisely along sidewalks and walkways. Some of the robots would be unmanned electric vehicles that would move people; others would be transport robots that could carry groceries, or follow children as they walked home from school to make sure they got there safely.
Goodson and Bruemmer said such technology is the wave of the future and its use at Lilac Hills Ranch would be a first in the development of a master-planned community.
Critics laughed at the idea.
“Did they use a robot to deliver this huge load of bull manure?” former Supervisor Pam Slater-Price said in an interview, and in a group email circulated mostly among people who oppose the project and have argued it would ruin the undeveloped area where it has been proposed.
“It’s kind of pathetic, just a new oddball idea,” said Patsy Fritz, a former county planning commissioner and an outspoken Lilac Hills critic. “He’s just trying to keep the flame alive. It’s not smoke and mirrors, its more like sparklers and razzle-dazzle. Randy Goodson is quite a super salesman.”
Goodson said that he and 5D Robotics have been working together for awhile and are also developing a robotics system for a residential project he is planning in Boulder, Colo.
“This is the future,” Goodson said, during Thursday’s demonstration. He said the system at Lilac Hills Ranch would be built during the first phase of construction and continue during the 10-year build-out process.
“We’re paying for installing this in the community,” he said. “The (Homeowner’s Association) will have to pay for the operations and maintenance. These are intended to replace vehicle trips. While there’s a slight increase in the HOA fee, residents will be able to come home from work and park their vehicle and they won’t have to get into it until they go back to work.”
Goodson said the “location tags” that will be built into light poles make sure robots go only where they should.
“The 5D technology controls where they can go within one centimeter of accuracy and it has sensors that prevent it from running over anybody or anything,” Goodson said.
Whether Lilac Hills Ranch will become a reality still remains to be seen. The neighborhood would be built half way between Temecula and Escondido, about a half mile east of Interstate 15 and south of W. Lilac Road, on 608 acres of mostly farmland. Under the county’s updated General Plan, the area is zoned for only 110 homes.
The General Plan encourages the creation of walkable communities, but in already urban areas near existing infrastructure. The Board of Supervisors will hold a hearing — potentially as soon as Oct. 28 — to decide whether to grant Accretive an amendment that would allow the development to proceed.
Opponents of Lilac Hills Ranch say the design of the project is fine, but its location makes a mockery of the General Plan. They say if the supervisors approve the amendment it could be a harbinger of similar types of big backcountry development.
The county’s Planning Commission last month voted 4-3 to recommend approval of the project.
Bruemmer said he’s pleased to partner with Goodson, a developer “who sees the value of bringing smart mobility technology to the people in their community.”
He said the robots solve the “first and last mile of transit problem,” which he described as the hesitancy of people to take alternative and public transportation if they have to drive a ways to get to that transportation.
For instance, he said, people who have to drive a mile to get to a Park & Ride often will just keep driving all the way to work.
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