Not to be outdone by its alliance partner Nissan, Renault has confirmed that it is working to bring cars with some form of self-driving technology in them by 2020.
Like Nissan, Renault is using one of its electric cars to develop the prototype autonomous vehicle technology — but as Autocar reports, Renault’s approach is slightly different to Nissan’s.
Its current prototype self-driving Zoe EV was made by taking a factory-spec version of Renault’s five-seat electric hatch and adding four specific bits of hardware to it: a single forward-facing video camera mounted at the top of the car’s windscreen; a forward-facing radar sensor; ultrasonic sensors in the bumper; and of course an onboard computer capable of running Renault’s self-driving software.
Here’s how it works. The computer on-board the car uses a technique called data fusion to combine data from the car’s GPS unit, forward facing camera, radar and ultrasonic sensors to create a digital picture of the world around it. It can then use that data to ‘see’ the world, allowing it to move around obstacles, stop signs and other cars.
Unlike Nissan’s more sophisticated autonomous driving technology however, Renault’s autonomous driving prototype lacks one key features: it can’t yet detect pedestrians, animals or cyclists. It also has a limited speed of just 20 miles per hour at the current time.
Because Renault’s goal isn’t full autonomy however, that shouldn’t be a problem. Renault says the system isn’t designed to take over from the driver at all times. Instead, the system would operate similar to an advanced version of cruise control and only activate on sections of ‘car only’ roads, like pedestrian-free urban low-speed dual carriageways.
Renault says the goal of the low-cost self-driving system is to give drivers the option of handing over control of the car when entering a designated pedestrian-free autonomous driving zone by displaying an alert on the car’s dashboard. If selected, the car then takes over the task of driving, allowing the driver to make use of the car’s full Internet connectivity to read emails, catch up with work, or relax. As soon as the driver rests their hands on the steering wheel or presses any of the car’s controls, autonomous driving ends and they are given full control of the car again.
Renault’s technology could also come in handy in parking lots too — where self-driving zones could allow cars to drop off their drivers at a special valet parking zone before heading off to park themselves.
While Renault’s system has some merits over other autonomous driving technologies — most important being its lower cost over more sophisticated systems — we’re in two minds as to how useful the described system would be in real life. While Renault’s autonomous driving technology could help minimise traffic congestion and accidents on busy urban clear ways like London’s notorious North Circular, we’re not sure its limited speed has enough practicality to be used in everyday life. And since the technology relies on specific designated autonomous driving zones, it relies on local governments agreeing to designate specific roads as okay for autonomous driving, ensuring that there’s no pedestrians, cyclists or animals along its length. And that may prove tougher than it first appears, although we must note that Renault has another six years before its promised 2020 goal is reached. In the world of technology, six years is a very long time.
Would you like Reanult’s semi-autonomous system, or would you prefer a car that can handle all road conditions without any interaction from you, the driver?
Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.
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