Autonomous car: Valeo laser will revolutionize automatic driving

Next July, motorists crossing France may come across this amazing spectacle: on the motorway or on the congested motorway, a luxury limousine moves slowly in a row, while the driver is quietly immersed in reading. from his diary … France will become, in fact, the second European. country, after Germany, to authorize the marketing of certain level 3 cars capable of driving in autonomous mode. equipped with semi-automobile. automatic driving function.

This magic trick is due in part to French computer maker Valeo. With its 20,000 engineers around the world and its 2 billion euros invested in research each year, an effort comparable to that of Gafam, it has become one of the world leaders in dealing with “light detection and range”. ). : a radar of the third type, considered a key piece in the development of advanced autonomous driving.

Currently only two cars are internationally approved to drive in this mode of driving delegation, where the legislation is favorable: the latest Mercedes S-Class and the Honda Legend Hybrid EX (Japan also allows level 3 autonomy).

“They have one thing in common, they’re both equipped with Scala 2, Valeo’s lidar, along with a full sensor system,” welcomes Geoffrey Bouquot, director of R&D and strategy for the company’s autonomous car. . That day, the engineer was in Detroit, the mecca of the American automobile, where he made the round of meals to praise the merits of the internal system, the aim of which is, of course, to improve security in the road: 90%. of injury accidents are related to human factors. And since the advent of driver assistance systems (automatic lane keeping, emergency braking, etc.), we have increasingly relied on technology to reduce this percentage.

We often ignore it, but in the autonomous car, France is full of initiatives. Research agents, such as CEA, Inria, Vedecom or Gustave-Eiffel University, participate in large-scale projects with manufacturers (Renault, Stellantis, Valeo, etc.), engineering companies (Akka Technologies …) and start -ups to accumulate. knowledge. The Valeo system, which took ten years to develop, has benefited from these partnerships. And it has a magical side.

Placed on the front bumper, the device scans the vehicle’s environment 360 degrees using infrared laser beams, when a conventional radar uses waves. These rays bounce off the surrounding objects and return to the lidar, whose software and artificial intelligence-based machinery interpret everything it has seen. At the same time, the lidar measures the distance of objects to the nearest centimeter and their speed if they move. Day or night, whether it’s raining, windy or snowing, nothing escapes your lynx’s eye: trees, humans, vehicles, infrastructure elements …

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From this amount of information, to which is added the data collected by radar sensors and cameras and a constantly updated HD map, the car makes decisions. Then it is the manufacturer’s software that comes into play, the latter assuming responsibility for the maneuver. Thanks to the combination of different sources of information, you believe that security is guaranteed. “A radar is susceptible to electromagnetic interference from high voltage lines or the profusion of surrounding metal objects, and a camera may be sensitive to bad weather. But if you add a third sensor like lidar, it’s not possible that the device invents an obstacle, “said Vincent Abadie, vice president and self-driving expert at Stellantis. The 14-brand manufacturer plans to equip its high-end models with this type of equipment from 2024.

Of course, Valeo is not the only one to develop leaders who, according to professionals, should represent a market of 50 billion euros by 2030. It is interested in a multitude of start-ups. In Europe, big players like Continental or Bosch are very active in the niche. In the United States, Waymo, the subsidiary of Google, or even Velodyne are proving themselves, especially in the robot taxi market. But when it comes to cars, Valeo is still ahead. “At the moment, we are the only ones to offer such technologies that meet the quality standards of the automotive industry and are mass-produced,” recalls Geoffrey Bouquot, the in-house expert. And it’s not over.

Created within the framework of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the rule on the marketing of highly autonomous vehicles currently imposes limits. It specifies in particular that the system can only be activated in the event of heavy traffic, on the motorway and at a maximum speed of 60 kilometers per hour. It is in these conditions that the driver can engage in something other than driving. How to browse the internet, check emails, or watch a movie on the center screen.

But the rule could change quickly. “In two years’ time, we plan to expand the system to 130 kilometers per hour. The service offered will range from traffic jams to highway travel,” said Jérôme Paschal, technical director of UTAC, a group specializing in testing. and vehicle approvals.

Good news for Valeo. Because the company is ready to follow this evolution. Last November it introduced the third generation of its lidar, whose production will begin in 2024. Unlike its predecessor, it is capable of running at high speed. Its performance is multiplied by ten, with a resolution multiplied by 12, a viewing angle by 2.5 and a range by 3 to reach 200 meters. The equipment manufacturer, which estimates that 30% of high-end vehicles sold in 2030 will be equipped with a Level 3 range device, has a road ahead.

Dozens of young French companies are betting on the autonomous car market

Hundreds of computers are needed to manage every function of the vehicle and the proliferation of sensors will further increase their number. As a result of a collaboration between CEA and Renault, the start-up Ille-de-France Alkalee has developed a centralized computer that combines all the functions. Tesla was the first manufacturer to explore this path.

Optical sensors in autonomous cars must be operational at all times. ClearDrop, a start-up from Marcq-en-Barœul (59), has developed a technology that uses surface acoustic waves to quickly remove water, condensation, frost, or snow. The system is mainly used to clean cameras and lidars.

These two young outbreaks have specialized in inertial navigation devices, capable of taking charge when GPS is inoperative, for example in tunnels. Equipped with gyroscopes, accelerometers, magnetometers, these systems that provide high-precision positioning and orientation equip submarines, tankers and aircraft.

Increasingly, the autonomous car will also be electric and will be able to recharge its battery without human intervention. Gulplug, a Grenoble start-up, offers a smart connection system. Once the vehicle is placed on a power source placed on the ground, the plug is lowered from the car and automatically connects to the magnetism technology.

In situations where the vehicle’s steering sensors are obstructed (intersections, etc.), the quality of connectivity is paramount. YoGoKo has developed a software platform (3/4 / 5G, Wi-Fi) that allows communication with other cars as well as with the infrastructure to refine the orientation. This is how the French Navy’s autonomous shuttles use it.

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