FOCUS : Autonomous vehicle technology
In the context of the rapid pace of progress of new technologies, the driverless car seems to be a major and immediate challenge for a large number of stakeholders, not all of them from the automotive sector.
Transpolis offers a systemic approach allowing the development and testing of technologies in the field of driverless vehicles and smart transport systems.
The Transpolis teams are thus working to develop innovative services in particular in the field of human factors, to evaluate the acceptability and safety in use of a driver assist system or of a driverless vehicle. Moreover, Transpolis’ test resources and tracks (100 ha) allow innovations to be tested in real-life conditions in the Rhône-Alpes, while guaranteeing the client the confidentiality of their trials.
A driverless vehicle is a vehicle able to navigate in traffic without the intervention of a driver. Companies such as Google which now claim experience of over 800,000 km on American roads, and the French company Navya are gambling heavily on completely driverless vehicles. On the other hand, manufacturers and suppliers in the automotive sector have decided to gradually automate their vehicles: Renault with Next2 and Volvo with SATRE. From the technological viewpoint, a driverless vehicle should be able to notice, analyse and react to its environment and the situations it encounters. Systems for reading road signs are already fitted in vehicles from high-end makers. Furthermore, manufacturers are working on communication between vehicles (vehicle-to-vehicle communication, V2V). This communication already allows convoy operation which could be very useful in particular for long-distance haulage vehicles. The next step towards driverless vehicles is apparently to be communication between infrastructures and vehicles (I2V and V2I). These smart roads and infrastructures could be even more effective as they could also help regulate traffic flows and optimise the energy consumption of vehicles. However, we still face the safety management problem of the co-existence of more or less driverless connected vehicles and traditional vehicles on partially equipped infrastructures.
A number of other obstacles and challenges stand in the way of the driverless vehicle. The unavoidable first one is regulatory. According to the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic, every vehicle must have a driver and said driver “must remain, in all circumstances, in control of his vehicle, so as to be able to deal with the need for caution and to be constantly able to perform all the manoeuvres required of him." Amendments are currently being adopted with a view to allowing, on the one hand, systems to improve safety, and on the other, driver assist systems such as cruise control, which the driver can however deactivate at any time.
The reliability of automation systems is also a critical issue. From the safety viewpoint, in the event of any malfunction or failure of the system in a critical situation, studies have shown that the driver needs around 10 seconds to regain driving control. Accidents attributable to systems such as these could compromise their roll-out by adversely affecting the confidence of potential users. Hence the enormous importance of test phases in R&D processes which need to take the maximum range of scenarios into account.
Moreover, the public’s acceptance of entirely driverless road transport has yet to be studied. The relationship of people with the car is undergoing a far-reaching change but the pleasure of driving seems still to be a major preoccupation of the French public. A significant marker is the small percentage of vehicles fitted with an automatic gearbox. However, vehicle automation will necessarily impact considerably on the jobs of drivers of heavy goods vehicles and buses which transport companies will have to anticipate