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Autonomous vehicles: between technological innovations and regulatory limitations

Autonomous vehicles have gone beyond the futuristic project stage and are already far more numerous than we think to criss-cross the American and French roads.

Faced with the potential and challenges offered by these vehicles, all the major historical automotive players have embarked on a technological race to establish themselves in this new segment. However, these historical players are confronted on the one hand with competition from technological giants such as Google, Uber, Facebook, etc., which have already been interested in this concept for several years and benefit from colossal funding resources; and on the other hand with local regulations, which currently constitute one of the main factors limiting development and testing, with a greater or lesser impact depending on the region. Thus, the geographical location of development and test centers is strategic and directly impacts technological developments.

Major technological innovations under development

The benefits associated with autonomous vehicles are multiple. According to the Corporate Vehicle Observatory, the number of fatal accidents in the United States would rise from 32,400 to 11,000 if 90% of vehicles were autonomous. Only one fatal accident so far in Arizona...compared to the 40,000 that occur every year in the United States. Autonomous vehicles will also be more environmentally friendly and would allow a 30% reduction in fuel consumption and pollutant emissions.

"Only one fatal accident so far in Arizona...compared to 40,000 every year in the United States."

The development of the autonomous vehicle is based on the development of technological equipment, such as radars, ultrasonic sensors, lidars, etc but also dedicated software solutions, giving rise to numerous patent applications. The sector is characterised by numerous takeovers and partnerships enabling the various players to pool their skills in order to establish themselves as leaders in this new market. Last January, Faurecia and Accenture formalized a partnership, as did Uber and Nvidia. Nvidia, historically positioned in the graphics processor segment, intends to impose itself in the autonomous vehicle sector, with its Socs (System on a chip) dedicated to artificial intelligence applied to autonomous driving, based on more than 9 billion transistors, and having been the subject of more than two billion dollars of investment.

Geographically close to Silicon Valley and supported by more flexible and specific regulations, Arizona is currently the eldorado of autonomous vehicles.

Since August 2015, no steps are required to run autonomous vehicles on public roads in Arizona. As a result, several hundred of Waymo's vehicles (Google project), Uber, Intel, General Motors, etc. travel the city's roads. Thus, Uber would circulate several dozen of these vehicles daily, for commercial purposes. As for the Waymo vehicles, they have recently successfully carried out tests without any human presence on board.

France, for its part, has made up for lost ground

Now it has joined the race at the same level as the Germans, as shown by the recent motorway toll crossings made without any human intervention by PSA's C4 Picasso and Renault's Symbioz Demo Car (level 4 vehicle on the rating scale defined by the American standards agency SAE International).

  • The American standardisation agency SAE International has defined a six-level rating under the J3016 standard, in order to measure the level of vehicle automation (level 5 corresponding to a level of total automation without any human intervention) taken up by all the main players. The majority of current tests are done on level 4 vehicles

France has ratified the Vienna Convention, which currently requires drivers to have full control of their vehicles. The latest tests were therefore made possible in particular by obtaining derogations from the Ministry of Transport for these vehicles. Currently, some 40 such derogations have been granted.  

The development of autonomous car technologies is therefore both critical for the advancement of the concept, and very sensitive, as illustrated by recent accusations of patent theft between Google and Uber. However, innovations are advancing rapidly, and after sending his car into space, Tesla aims to make an autonomous coast to coast journey in 2018. The marketing of autonomous level 5 vehicles (complete vehicle automation) is planned by 2025 to 2030.

IAC contributes to the development of the autonomous vehicle within the framework of its projects.

And notably within the framework of the AWARE project, led by Olivier Saint Esprit. The firm was mandated by a consortium of French manufacturers to specify the need and define the target selling price of inertial sensors designed to locate the vehicle in space. To achieve these objectives, the teams modelled the use of an inertial measurement unit in autonomous driving in order to deduce the expected performances, then carried out a market study of gyroscopes and accelerometers and projected the selling price of high-performance sensors during production on automotive quantities.

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