A few days ago, Renault invited us to ride in one of his first autonomous cars. If it were not (yet) to drive, this demonstration was intended to show us the progress of the French manufacturer in the field. Here are our impressions.
In the field of autonomous cars, Renault is not the manufacturer that communicates the most on the subject. The French manufacturer has been working on the subject for many years and even opened last year a Technocentre in Saclay, southwest of Paris, to bring together some fifty engineers working permanently on the project.
A Renault Autonomous Space
The result, we were able to test it during a small morning. Renault invited us to Boulogne, at the group’s headquarters, to board a prototype of an autonomous car. From the outside, with the exception of the “Autonomous Drive” stickers, there is little or no indication that this Renault Espace (a Renault Espace 5 of 2015) is autonomous. It is hardly noticed the lidars housings located in the front and rear bumpers.
In fact, this Renault Space embarks a lot of technologies. Above the windshield are three cameras with different focal lengths (short, medium and long range). There are also four 180 degree digital cameras for the detection of short-range objects on the rear-view mirrors and license plates. There are also three lidars, a frontal radar, 4 corner radars and a belt of 20 ultrasonic sensors. To be honest, if Renault had not told me that his car had so many sensors, I would have been unable to see them all.
A chest full of computers
To manage all this, an AI developed internally by Renault is in an immense assembly of PCs located in the vault of the Space. And as you can see, for now, it takes up a lot of space. Renault wanted to reassure us: it is still a prototype and as such, all PCs and other machines intended to control the car are, according to the engineers, “very easily miniaturizable”.
The interior of the car also has everything from the prototype. On the driver’s side, first of all, the dashboard is almost identical to that of a classic car. Only the screen that usually displays the speedometer changes: it shows a blue color here when the pipe is “manual” and yellow when the pipe is autonomous. To switch from one to the other simply press a button located on the commodo usually dedicated to the speed limit. Two large red buttons are also present in the cockpit, one on the driver’s side and the other on the passenger’s side: they stop autonomous driving in an emergency. Finally, a PC screen displays in real time what “see” the various sensors and cameras of the car.
Autonomous driving that is very easily forgotten
And this autonomous behavior then? Even though the model on board we had a level of autonomy (no need to look at the road or put our hands on the wheel), we had to wait on a fast lane, A single direction well separated by a platform – so that the engineer of Renault activates the AI who will take charge of the driving. No question for now – for security reasons – to activate it on the device or in town, the car is not yet able to spot red lights or traffic lights of cars. She can spot the objects around her, but not yet “read” the lights that surround her. And no question for the journalists present at the demonstration to take the wheel.