Driverless cars

There are some very special vehicles on the road at Renault’s Guyancourt Technocentre. They are prototype driverless cars, made accessible to local staff to test a new mobility service that allows them to recover and leave cars at various places in the parking zones. These cars are the result of the PAMU Project, and acronym (in French) for Advanced platform for urban mobility, managed by Renault and where UTC’s Heudiasyc Laboratory has played an important role.

Driverless cars

Using an on-line interface, Renault Technocentre staff can order a car that will come to collect hem at a given position. Once they get onboard, they take control and drive the car wherever they want, after which the car goes into self-drive mode and returns to its assigned parking place, avoiding obstacles and pedestrians on the way. "The main challenge for us was to equip the cars with so-called "off the shelf", mass-produced sensors proposed by our OEM suppliers, thereby avoiding having to design costly prototype sensors, i.e., different from the Google Car with its highly expensive sensors that are difficult to fit into the vehicle", says Vincent Frémont, lecturer and research scientist at the Heudiasyc Lab. The aim is to get away from the mad-cap project and enter the logical sphere of an industrially viable car. But it must be borne in mind that the components are of black-box design which implies that the scientists cannot access the algorithms nor even the programme lines. "This forces us to consider the level of trust we can place in the data delivered by the devices as yet another parameter", underlines Vincent Frémont.

Capacity to react faced with the unknown

" The prototype that was developed implements a certain number of robotic functionalities that confer a degree of freedom and also the capacity to react when faced with an unknown situation", says Philippe Bonnifait another lecturer research scientist posted with UTC's Heudiasyc Laboratory. Vehicle autonomy depends on using a precise localization and a special map that allows the vehicle to carry out its navigation mission without knowing in advance and with precision the route to take. This is why and how the self-drive car, leaving or returning to its parking berth and recharge connection, can avoid a pedestrian, or to safely overtake a car parked on the road. This is a great advance with respect to other automatic systems that can only follows a perfectly memorized route (via GPS, for example) or follow clear and specific road carriageway markers. Even if numerous tests still remain to be carried out, the PAMU Project has demonstrated the potential of self-drive vehicles using off the shelf components. "In fact", explains Vincent Frémont, "it is the first time that a self-drive project by a French industrialist has produced such results. Today we are studying the follow-up to this work, particularly in relation to improving the rea- time software packages that were prototyped".