Autonomous cars, between myth and reality

The future is no longer what it used to be. A few years ago, the prospect of autonomous cars was on everyone’s lips among industry professionals. The McKinsey firm even predicted in 2016 that under an optimistic scenario, 15% of vehicles sold in 2030 would be fully autonomous. Ace it! The soufflé is gone and no one dares to give it a deadline today. “We are exactly in the Gartner innovation cycle: after reaching a peak of exaggerated expectations, we realize that technology requires more time to develop,” says Geoffrey Bouquot, director of R&D and Valeo equipment supplier strategy.

“It solved those who had just participated in the competition for the best demonstration of prototypes at technology fairs and those who are really working on the subject,” adds Michael Fernandez-Ferri, co-founder of Autotech, the start-up association. -up cars. A return to reason, then? “Today we distinguish two parallel paths,” sums up Anne-Marie Idrac, who has been appointed by the government as a senior official in the national strategy for the development of autonomous vehicles.

The first refers to the progressive development of driver assistance systems (adaptive speed control, automatic emergency braking, presence detector, etc.) and corresponds rather to the first two levels of autonomy of a vehicle. That is, the car can perform certain maneuvers but the driver has no right to let go of the steering wheel.

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Last year, Honda in Japan and Mercedes in Germany became the first officially approved manufacturers to market models that allow level 3 autonomous driving, where the vehicle can run 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 next ? Nothing says that the manufacturers intend to reach the last two levels, where the presence of an operator on board is no longer necessarily necessary. “It’s much more technically complex and use cases need to be economically viable,” says Anne-Marie Idrac. “Being able to do without the driver is not of much interest to an individual, especially if the equipment costs twice the price of the vehicle,” confirms Vincent Abadie, senior vice president of Stellantis driver and autonomous vehicle assistance systems.

Total autonomy is not, however, a fantasy. This is the purpose of the second path: that of shared mobility, with autonomous shuttles. Waymo, a subsidiary of Google, for example, has been offering its robotic taxi service in Phoenix, Arizona since 2020. France should be left with no less than well-adjusted regulations that allow SMEs EasyMile and Navya experiment with their driverless shuttles, 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 road traffic, road markings and road signs were installed to help the vehicle find its way. In addition to these tests, there are applications in industrial sites (ports, airports, mines, etc.) or in logistics, with the emergence of delivery droids. It proves that the sector is far from deserted.

The promises of 5G

Will 5G be a game changer for autonomous mobility? This is the question that the 16 players of 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 investment program of the future, the project brings together partners such as Bouygues Telecom, Capgemini, Nokia, Renault, Valeo and Stellantis.

Four real-time experiments will be conducted 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 a self-propelled shuttle service to Vélizy-Villacoublay (Yvelines).

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“The idea is to measure the ability to monitor multiple vehicles at once thanks to the high bandwidth that allows 5G,” says Michael Fernandez-Ferri, vice president of products and associations of the start-up Goggo Network. involved in the project. The first tests are scheduled for September.


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