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Renault unveils Next Two autonomous electric vehicle prototype for 2020

6 February 2014

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The Next Two prototype. Click to enlarge.

Renault has unveiled the Next Two concept—the company’s current vision of an autonomous drive (AD) capable electric vehicle for the year 2020.

The Next Two prototype—based on a Renault ZOE—focuses on two areas: the delegation of driving functions under certain conditions and connectivity. Using sensor technologies, Next Two enables the delegation of driving functions from the driver to the car in congested traffic up to km/h (18.6 mph) on main roads. It also offers an Automated Valet Parking function which permits the vehicle to park itself completely autonomously in car parks equipped to cater for automated vehicles. This includes both finding a parking place and the necessary maneuvering.

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Autonomous driving systems associated with AD functions in the Next Two. Click to enlarge.

Thanks to the Next Two autonomous prototype, Renault’s aim is to take up position right now in this field of advanced technology which we believe will reach the marketplace by around 2020. With Next Two, we wanted to combine the worlds of delegated driving and connectivity. Not only will autonomous driving enhance safety but it will also free up time for drivers. Being connected will enable them to make the most of this extra time by providing them with access to new in-car services such as video-conferences, on-line shopping, travel information and more.

—Carlos Ghosn, CEO Renault

Renault believed it was essential for Next Two to be affordable; the prototype which incorporates technologies that are sufficiently well-developed to be built into production models in the medium-term future, said Frédéric Mathis, the Next Two project leader.

The New Face of Industry in France policy
The French government has included autonomous vehicles among its 34 plans for industry sectors as part of its New Face of Industry in France. Responsibility for the autonomous vehicle plan’s implementation has been given to Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn.
The membership of the project team as well as a roadmap for the project will be finalized by the end of the first quarter of 2014. One of the first steps will be to determine which sections of the relevant legislation will have to be amended in order to allow vehicles to travel under autonomous control on public roads.
International regulations, along with the national highway codes derived from these regulations, were drawn up decades ago and never anticipated the possibility of autonomous vehicles. French government officials have formed an inter-ministerial team tasked with discussing this key issue with industry.

The delegation of driving functions relies notably on ADAS hardware (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems) which will be marketed from 2014. The system is based upon two main detection systems which analyse the vehicle’s environment using a sensor in the front bumper of the car and a camera located at the base of the rear-view mirror, plus an ultrasound field around the vehicle. All these systems are coordinated by a control unit.

The front-facing sensor is used to analyse the vehicle ahead, calculating how far away it is and at what speed it is moving. The camera serves to detect lateral markings on the ground, in order to be able to correctly position the vehicle in its traffic lane.

On this point, Renault is working in collaboration with the Vehicle-Infrastructure-Driver Interactions Laboratory (LIVIC), a research laboratory born out of INRETS and which specializes in advanced driving assistance systems.

The data received from the sensor and camera is forwarded to a supervisor which, in turn, communicates with the control units for the electric power steering, motor and decoupled brake pedal. In order to keep up with the flow of traffic, it adapts the instructions it transmits to the motor and brakes.

International context
Renault suggests that there are three broadly different motives pushing the automation of driving globally. First, countries such as Japan see automation as a means of enabling an aging population driving for as long as possible.
Other countries—such as the Netherlands—are interested in autonomous driving principally for regulating traffic. These countries believe that automation will help encourage greater fluidity in traffic flow; this could enable all the vehicles in a given lane to platoon, for example.
A third group of countries believes that the automation of driving functions will serve to improve road safety. Europe would make mandatory a certain number of driver assistance systems—pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning and so on—that could, step-by-step, build up to delegated driving. The United States has been the first country to authorize trials of autonomous vehicles on the open road, albeit under certain conditions and only in certain states.

Similarly, in order to keep the vehicle in the same lane, it sends the steering system an instruction of what angle to follow. The calculator must above all constantly ensure that there are no contradictions between the various instructions sent to the steering, motor and brakes, to avoid the car accelerating midway through a corner, for example, or braking suddenly due to an ill-timed detection.

This embedded intelligence is the difference between Next Two’s delegated driving functions and the separate ADAS functions (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems) such as Automotive Cruise Control and Lane Keeping Assist which already exist today.

Handing over control to the vehicle is only possible in two specific situations which ensure that the necessary safety measures are met:

  • Congested traffic on main roads. The vehicle must be on a protected route with neither pedestrians nor cyclists around, with congested traffic moving at a speed of less than 30 km/h and with no change of lane involved. The delegation of driving functions must last at least five minutes. If the above conditions are met, the driver will be able to push a button and concentrate on something else. The car will drive itself.

  • Automated valet parking.

Human factors and machine interface. The delegation of driving requires a psychological breakthrough as well as a technology breakthrough, Renault posits. One of the chief challenges consequently consisted in creating a system which ensures that the switch to delegated driving is clearly understood and in which the driver has confidence.

When the car takes over, the head-up display (HUD) becomes blue. The aim of this is to create a reflex in the driver’s mind that associates the color blue with the automatic mode.

To prevent ambiguous situations, we wanted a basic binary, on-off system which immediately indicates how the car is being driven at any given moment.

—Frédéric Mathis

When driving of the vehicle is being delegated, the head-up display and dashboard display allow a logical dialogue to take place between the driver and the car.

Head-Middle Display (HMD). Next Two features an augmented reality system which involves superimposing additional information that is useful to the driver onto a real image, a form of augmented reality. In the case of Next Two, it was decided to take advantage of this system while the vehicle is being driven conventionally to deliver a type of enriched navigation.

Anyone who has already used a navigation system knows that in certain complex situations—i.e. round roundabouts, at motorway junctions, etc.—it is not always easy to find your marks and take the correct decisions.

In the case of Next Two, the arrow is superimposed onto a real-time image of the road ahead which is projected onto the HMD. This makes navigation simpler whatever the circumstances because the arrow is portrayed in the vehicle’s actual position on the road. Even if the road ahead is concealed by a truck, the driver knows exactly where to head or to turn. The system also highlights those traffic signs which influence the vehicle’s speed, such as warnings of a pedestrian crossing or a dangerous bend, for example. The others are not highlighted, however, so as not to overload the driver’s attention.

—Frédéric Mathis

When driving is being delegated, the driver can take his or her eyes off the road. In this case, the HUD serves to display information which reassures the driver with regard to what the vehicle is doing. For example, if Next Two is calculating its position on the road in relation to a ‘target’ vehicle ahead, this vehicle is highlighted. At the same time, the detectability of the road’s ground markings is displayed during the ‘delegated driving’ mode so that, should Next Two estimate that it is insufficient and ask the driver to take over, the latter knows instantly why by looking at the HMD.

Multimedia display. The large, centrally-positioned multimedia display allows multimodal interaction and can be controlled by either touch or movements of the hand. The infrared sensor at the top the display is capable of detecting certain simple movements, such as up-down, down-up, left-right and right-left. This basic interaction suffices for the driver to be able to scroll up or down lists (e.g. contact lists) or to trigger horizontal movements on the display to view photos or radio frequencies, for example, without having to lift a shoulder from the seat back to reach the screen with a finger.

This interactive ‘bubble’ also allows the driver to use the zoom function or open a ‘pop up’, for example. Once again, just moving the hand makes it possible to transfer a photo or document from the main display to nomad devices belonging to other occupants of the vehicle.

Smart seat. This seat was developed in association with Faurecia and features electric controls that allow its settings to be adapted to different drivers. This smart seat uses a database stored on the Cloud to determine the ideal settings as a function of the driver’s build.

A Health & Wellbeing application controls the smart seat which features a ‘relax’ mode, along with a range of multi-sensorial ambiences (lighting, audio, scent) that also help occupants to wind down and enjoy their journey safely, while the vehicle looks after the driving itself.

Connectivity. Fitted with a multi-standard mobile router (developed in conjunction with CEA, Commissariat à l’Energie Atomique et aux Energies Alternatives), Next Two is capable of switching between one network and another to guarantee optimal signal. In accordance with requirements and with the channels available at a given moment, Next Two can rely upon the following connections: 2G, 3G, 4G, Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi Wave, Hotspot and Bluetooth. Next Two automatically switches from 4G to free Wi-Fi as soon as the latter is detected.

With its in-car open source multimedia platform, Next Two is compatible with Android, IOS, Windows 8 and all other operating systems. Drivers and passengers can access all connected services available on the Cloud.

February 6, 2014 in Autonomous driving, Connected vehicles, Electric (Battery) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

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