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It’s a bit like the Darpa * Challenge à la française … If the Pentagon’s innovation agency in the United States allowed the autonomous car race to begin in the mid-2000s, with students going to Google above all, France intends to bring out technologies by training apprentices of engineers from all over the world. The contest is also open to startups.

The 1st edition of the UTAC Challenge, organized under the auspices of the Society of Automotive Engineers, took place in mid-May at the Linas-Montlhéry venue in the Paris region. The challenge took place more specifically at TEQMO, the new autonomous and connected vehicle testing center of UTAC-CERAM, inaugurated in June 2019.

Trained by current automotive engineers, the selected teams were able to carry out their project. They had to work on the complete or partial design of a vehicle or functions related to autonomy and safety. Basically, I needed an on-board driver system that could act on steering and braking at any time, with the possibility for teams to choose any type of vehicle, with at least three wheels and an engine.

The regulations establish 4 test categories: free test (no rolling stock, software or sensors could be presented), highway driving, city driving and automated parking.

* Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency

A Citroën AMI transformed into a robot taxi

For this premiere there were only French engineering schools. And at the end of the competition, ESIGELEC de Rouen won.

The school, which is trained in intelligent and connected systems, shone with its Citroën AMI robot. A good example of high technology applied at low cost. With financial support from the region, the team of 13 students used recipes applied during previous collaborations, in particular for FAAR-Industry robot taxis.

For example, it has equipped the steering column with an electronically detachable motor, in order to turn the steering wheel. Accelerator and indicator automation could be done using a dedicated electronic card. The braking has been automated, by a system that presses the pedal through a motor, and can be operated at any time by the control system. The team also made a box in the back of the vehicle to integrate the electronics (power supply, on-board PC, positioning and communication system), while the roof rails of the vehicle housed the sensors (including the lidars and cameras).

The school obtained the 1st place in the urban route (capacity of the vehicle to circulate in automatic driving by a defined urban route). It received an award from D-Space (a provider of software and computer solutions for the automotive industry), which is one of its sponsors *. The school will have materials for educational and research projects related to vehicles. And ESIGELEC also won the prize for the best school, by integrating the UTAC CERAM challenge into the teaching methodology of 4th and 5th grade students.

* With the publisher Intempora (software for the tests of perception of autonomous vehicles), the company Opal-RT STI (validation of electronic systems), AV Simulation (simulation solutions in the car including the software Scanner), and the Mathworks editor (calculation software). ).


The other big winner is ESTACA – a training school in transport and in particular in cars – which won 1st place in automated car parks, and to which the jury awarded the title of best project.

The awards also include UTBM (2nd place Automated Urban Route), IPSA (2nd place free trial), ENSTA Bretagne (3rd place free trial and award for best simulation), the University of Orleans Best Prototype Award ) and the ECE Paris Lyon (Innovative Concept Award). Participants were judged according to the technical and performance criteria of their project. It was necessary both to demonstrate technological maturity (50% of the qualification) and to know how to work in a team and communicate.

It should be noted that the participants in the UTAC Challenge also worked on “smooth driving”: the ability of a vehicle or function to ensure optimal safety and driving quality. The aim of UTAC-CERAM is to propose this criterion to the Euro NCAP consortium to evaluate future driving aids and autonomous vehicles.

A competition that will be repeated

Covid obliges, the challenge has only been done this year. But last year, the engineering schools themselves were able to take part in a digital edition during which they were able to present their solutions, using on-screen animations.

Last May, they entered the difficult path by driving their vehicles (Renault Twizy and ZOE, Citroën AMI) on the TEQMO tracks. UTAC-CERAM sees this competition as a way to enhance its test center, which includes no less than 12 km of test tracks and allows to recreate the real traffic conditions (road, highways, urban area, parking).

The infrastructure is quite unique in Europe, as is this challenge, which is the first of its kind. According to the organizers, this 1st edition has fulfilled all its promises and all the teams are already giving appointments for future candidates next year.

To sum up

Autonews high-tech specialist Laurent Meillaud takes a look at the first edition of the UTAC Challenge, which was held in mid-May 2022 at TEQMO, the new UTAC-CERAM testing center. Open to universities, engineering schools or IUTs around the world, participants “competed” through 4 categories: free trial, highway driving, city driving and automated parking.

Laurent Meillaud

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