The UTAC CERAM, which already manages the safety approvals of traditional vehicles, will open in October the first French center of tests for autonomous vehicles in Essonne. Interview of his project manager.
JDN. What types of autonomous vehicles and road environments can be tested in your autonomous vehicle center?
Alain Piperno. This center has been validated by the French subsidiary of the automobile. His first need for testing and certification concerns autonomous vehicles level 3 (autonomous driving, driver ready to take control, ed) and 4 (the driver does not need to be attentive, ed) on highway, who will be the first to be authorized, probably in 2019 on a European scale. Our test center will offer 2.5 kilometers of three-lane highway, with insertions and exits, tunnels, a “mini-toll” and lighting for night testing. Different sets of signs and display variable, French, English or Chinese, will drive vehicles to different codes of the road.
Another area will be dedicated to safety maneuvers such as braking and emergency avoidance. The vehicles will cross a large straight line crossed by a road on which will circulate various obstacles (pedestrians, bicycles, other cars). And on a large flat area like several football fields, we will test all kinds of maneuvers, for example when a vehicle turns at a junction and sees at the last moment a pedestrian, or meets a car in front of him after passing. The other major test need concerns urban environments, which are the biggest challenge of autonomous driving. We are creating a false city that will cover 5 to 10 hectares with building facades, partitions, zebra crossings, all the road infrastructure (intersections, roundabouts, traffic lights) and the many obstacles that can be encountered in an urban environment.
You also want to reproduce the connected infrastructure with which autonomous vehicles will have to communicate …
Connectivity is indeed an important component of testing. All new tracks will be connected via two technologies: road Wi-Fi (G5) and 4G, then 5G in 2019-2020 thanks to a partnership with Orange and Ericsson. Highway managers are about to become our partners. They will test the computerized management and maintenance of motorways. Autonomous vehicles will also need much more accurate high-density map systems. We are in talks with mapping majors to join us.
Who will your customers be?
It will first be the car manufacturers and suppliers who are already testing development, development, and approval for their driving assistance systems (ADAS) and their traditional vehicles: PSA, Renault, BMW, Valeo or Volkswagen. PSA, Renault and Valeo, whose engineering centers are half an hour from our Linas-Montlhéry site (Essonne), have also committed to make several million euros of tests over the next three years . But our customers will also be innovative start-ups and SMEs, research institutes and various partners (connectivity, highways, cartographers …) that constitute the ecosystem of autonomous and connected vehicles.
What will be the economic model of this center?
These are day and week rentals. Either our customers are content to rent the track. Or they also rent all the necessary equipment and our technical teams who will set up scenarios and give official results (reaction time, braking distance etc., note) with a precision to the hundredth of a second and centimeter. Up to ten teams will be able to perform different tests in parallel. This, in addition to the night tests, will allow us to rent the equivalent of 500 to 1000 test days each year. We also offer rental of offices and workshops along the slopes, as well as more comprehensive services including the development of the vehicle.
What is the point of testing an autonomous vehicle test center when the industry has already passed tests in the public space, on motorways and in the city?
Experiments in public places are essential. But they are very expensive: it is necessary to ensure the vehicle and necessarily to have expert drivers on board who can take again the control not to risk a collision. On private circuit, no driver needed on board. The other problem with public experiments is that they do not go far enough, since we can not afford to risk the safety of the public. Our tests can go as far as the collision or near-miss. We have identified hundreds of driving scenarios to test. To try them all, we would have to roll billions of kilometers in public while we can provoke them on a circuit or computer simulation. The circuit is also a mandatory first step to test a new autonomous vehicle and be confident enough to send it on open roads.