Autonomous cars, between myth and reality

The future is not what it used to be. A few years ago, the prospect of self-driving cars was on everyone’s lips among industry professionals. The McKinsey company even predicted in 2016 that according to an optimistic scenario, 15% of vehicles sold by 2030 would be fully autonomous. Eset! The soufflé has settled down and no one dares to give a deadline today. “We are precisely in Gartner’s innovation cycle: after reaching a peak of exaggerated hopes, we realize that technology requires more time to be developed,” notes Geoffrey Bouquot, director of R&D and strategy for equipment supplier Valeo.

“It sorted from those who just participated in the competition for the best prototype demonstration at technology fairs, and those who really work on the subject,” adds Michael Fernandez-Ferri, co-founder of Autotech, the association of automobility start-ups. A return to reason then? “Today, we distinguish two parallel roads,” sums up Anne-Marie Idrac, appointed by the government as a senior official of the National Strategy for the Development of Autonomous Vehicles.

The first concerns the progressive development of driver assistance systems (adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, presence detector, etc.) and rather corresponds to the first two levels of a vehicle’s autonomy. Namely that the car can perform certain maneuvers but the driver has no right to drop his hands on the steering wheel.

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Last year, Honda in Japan and Mercedes in Germany became the first manufacturers to be officially approved to market models that allow level 3 autonomous driving, where the vehicle can drive without human intervention … under certain conditions. In this case here, on the highways and at a maximum speed of 60 kilometers per hour, therefore during heavy traffic. The driver must be able to regain control at all times.

The individual autonomous car: feasible and profitable?

The following ? Nothing says that manufacturers aim to reach the last two levels where the presence of an operator on board is no longer necessarily required. “It’s much more technically complex, and use cases need to be financially viable,” says Anne-Marie Idrac. “Being able to do without the driver is not of great interest to the individual, especially if the equipment costs twice the price of the vehicle,” confirms Vincent Abadie, senior vice president expert in driver assistance systems and autonomous vehicles at Stellantis.

However, complete autonomy is not a fantasy. This is the purpose of the other way: shared mobility with autonomous shuttle services. Waymo, Google’s subsidiary, for example, has been offering its robotic taxi service in Phoenix, Arizona, since 2020. France should not be overtaken by accommodating rules that allow SMEs EasyMile and Navya to experiment with their driverless shuttle. , especially in Toulouse, Sophia-Antipolis or Crest (Drôme). It should be noted that in this last experiment, in a rural area and on a road open to car traffic, road markings and road signs were installed to help the vehicle find its way. In addition to these tests, there are applications at industrial plants (ports, airports, mines, etc.) or in logistics, with the appearance of delivery droids. A proof that the sector is far from deserted.

The promises of 5G

Will 5G be a game-changer for autonomous mobility? That is the question that the 16 players in the 5G Open Road program presented on April 20 will try to answer. With a budget of 90 million euros over three years, co-financed by the government as part of the future investment program, the project brings together partners such as Bouygues Telecom, Capgemini, Nokia, Renault, Valeo and Stellantis.

Four experiments will be performed under real conditions to assess the potential contribution of 5G: a smart intersection to improve pedestrian safety while improving traffic flow (where?); a multimodal hub, in a station (which one?), to access various mobility services (scooters, self-service car, etc.); a fleet of autonomous delivery droids for students on the Saclay Plateau in Essonne and an autonomous shuttle service in Vélizy-Villacoublay (Yvelines).

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“The idea would be to measure the capacity to be able to monitor several vehicles at the same time thanks to the large bandwidth allowed by 5G”, specifies, in this latter case, Michael Fernandez-Ferri, Vice President of Products and Partnerships in the start-up Goggo Network, involved in the project. The first tests are scheduled for September.


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