DAWN OF THE AUTONOMS

 

With urban populations continuing to grow around the world, the problem of congestion in city centres is only getting worse.

Global outdoor air pollution, including that caused by traffic, has reached crisis point and has been blamed for 2.6 million annual early deaths, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Yet, an estimated 70% of the world’s population is expected to be concentrated within ever-expanding towns and cities by 2050.

Last year, drivers are estimated to have spent more than 65 hours in traffic jams in Paris alone, which pales in comparison to 91 hours in Moscow, 104 hours in Los Angeles and 73 hours in London. And, each quarter traffic jams increase by 6% around the world, according to Inrix 2016 statistics.

In addition, according to the WHO, approximately 1.3 million deaths are caused by car accidents every year – predicted to rise to 2.3 million by 2030.

How best to tackle these problems and unsustainable growth? French technology company NAVYA says, “We need to act now in order to ease road congestion in city centres and provide an answer to the demand for first and last mile service. New mobility solutions must be developed.”

One such solution is to encourage car- sharing and make it more convenient, thereby reducing the number of vehicles on the road. And, NAVYA thinks they have the answer with their latest fully autonomous vehicles, the Autonom range including Autonom Shuttle, as a shuttle service and Autonom Cab, for on- demand journeys.

“At NAVYA, we use our passion for new technology in our battle to meet the challenges of urban mobility. With the development of our new transportation solutions that are autonomous, driverless and electric, day after day we are revolutionising the idea of mobility in cities and on private sites,” says NAVYA CEO Christophe Sapet.

“Imagine what cities would be like if there were nothing but Autonoms running on the road. No more traffic jams or parking problems, fewer accidents and less pollution.

“We recognise that the status of individual cars is rapidly changing, especially amongyounger generations, many of whom don’t have their driver’s licence and are less attached to the concept of owning a car.

“What they want are mobility solutions available 24/7, ensuring their safety and well-being at a reduced cost. Autonom Cab is leading edge and will revolutionise both habits and technology, enabling a great many people to gain access to a brand-new mobility solution.”

The Cab follows in the footsteps of the NAVYA’s ARMA shuttle bus, which is already in operation at private sites around the world, including an EDF power station in France and soon to be at the site of the 2012 London Olympics.

The new vehicle is described as being “autonomous, personalized and shared” and represents NAVYA’s solution to what it sees as the major challenges facing urban populations and travelling around towns and cities.

The electric powered Autonom Cab was purpose built to be autonomous from the very start of its development, meaning there is no cockpit, steering wheel or pedals.

The Cab has been designed to seat up to six passengers – in a twin bench ‘three-facing-three’ layout.

On board, passengers can choose to work, benefiting from fully connected technology, or partake in an interactive cultural visit of the city. They can also choose a music playlist, or buy their cinema or museum tickets while en route to their chosen destination.

Although inner-city speed limits tend not to exceed 40mph, the cab is capable of a maximum speed of 55mph. A 22 or 33kWh LiFeP04 battery ensures enough range for an estimated 10-hours operation, which can be recharged over 5 hours at 32Amps.

NAVYA say the Cab can also use the latest traffic information to avoid congestion, rather than being fixed to a set route. This differs from the ARM A, which required a pre-set route to be programmed by a human operator before the shuttle bus was set loose. This created a detailed map, including where pedestrian crossings are, speed bumps and even kerbs. The Autonom Cab, on the other hand, uses an array of digital sensors and computers to process information in real-time.

Thanks to production facilities already in place in both France and the USA, the company is ready to deploy the Cab for service as soon as the second quarter of 2018.

How do I call a Cab?

Using the NAVYA app, a customer can order a Cab using their smartphone. A short time later, when the Cab arrives, it is illuminated with a green light band. Again, using the app, the sliding door can be opened and then closed. On-board Wi-Fi is standard, allowing passengers to work while the vehicle drives. Additionally, regular routes can be pre-programmed and saved in the app for ease of access. Similarly, the Cab will offer a return journey if it anticipates this need. And, in the unlikely event of something going wrong, there are no fewer than four emergency stop buttons.

The Autonom Cab is being made available as either a private or shared service. The cab is also equipped with Ingenico’s connected payment solutions to handle fares.

Technology

The Autonom Cab uses multi-sensor technology with no fewer than 10 Lidar sensors, 6 cameras, 4 radars, 4 odometry sensors, 2 GNSS antennae and 1 inertial measurement unit (IMU).

The cameras analyse the vehicle’s surroundings, in particular road signs and traffic lights and can detect and categorise obstacles using deep-learning algorithms. Autonom Cab features two types of ten Lidar – three Velodyne VLP 360° and seven Valeo SCALA 145°, which ‘see’ up to 200 metres – both of which use lasers to measure distance and allow the vehicle to perceive its surroundings in 3D, helping precisely position itself on the road. The two GNSS antennae are linked to a GNSS RTK system that also provides precise positioning, accurate to the nearest centimetre. Traditional radars from Valeo are used to determine the speed and position of nearby objects. Likewise, the 4 odometry sensors estimate and then verify the Autonom’s position and speed while on the move. Finally, the IMU measures vehicle acceleration and rotation, enabling greater precision. A powerful on-board computer is required to constantly merge and interpret data received by the sensor architecture that uses Nvidia GPU powered platforms.

Additionally, vehicles in the AUTONOM range can communicate with one another and even infrastructure like traffic lights using a 4G mobile connection and V2X (OBU) technology, respectively.

The combination of sensors and sheer quantity of them ensures there are multiple fail-safes in place, which NAVYA say offers “at least a triple redundancy across all functions”

The company adds that the Cab’s “intelligence is based on high performance steering and detection systems that combine a number of cutting-edge technologies. Which means Autonom Cab can move around efficiently and safely, making the most appropriate decisions instantly. And all without a driver.”

The vehicle creates a map of its surroundings on the fly, using a proprietary system created by NAVYA following extensive testing around the world and using experience from the company’s ARMA shuttle bus.

A three-pronged approach is taken by the Autonom to manage traffic situations based on:

  • Perception, allowing the Autonom to understand its surroundings, detect obstacles and anticipate movement.
  •  Decision, where the Autonom calculates anddetermines its route and path.
  • Action, where the Autonom carries out decisions made by the vehicle’s computer to the best of its ability.

The design of the Autonom Cab is intended to serve as both a practical machine that can accommodate six passengers and provide them with a panoramic view of the city and its environs, as well as being able to communicate with pedestrians via a coloured light band on the exterior.

When will it be on the road?

Well, as you can see, it already is – at least in these trials that took place in Paris for the publicity photos. However, the technology works and is already functional. All that really remains is production, which will be based on demand.

Leaning on existing partnerships with Keolis in Europe and America, as well as RAC in Australia, NAVYA plans to deploy fleets of Autonoms in city centres on the open road as soon as Q2 next year. Further partnerships will be announced at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2018 in Las Vegas.

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