Driverless cars head for streets of Rouen

Driverless cars will be picking up and dropping off passengers on public roads in Normandy this spring as Renault prepares Europe’s first large-scale test of robot self-driving technology.

25 October 2017
By Ken Seaton

The test will initially see four electric ZOEs running on 10km of public roads on three routes in Rouen’s Mad­rillet Technopôle business zone with a shuttle bus added later.

Passengers will be able to ‘hail’ a car using a smartphone app with no set pick-up or drop-off points.

Driverless cars could cut road deaths in France by nearly a third as drink-drivers are to blame for 29% of fatal accidents and, in all, 90% of road accidents are due to driver error.

The cars could also vastly reduce other types of accidents as well as open up opportunities for non-drivers and older people who are reluctant to drive.

Run by Renault, public transport firm Transdev and insurers Mat­mut, the Rouen Normandy Autonomous Lab tests aim to deal with real-life problems such as busy junctions, aggressive drivers and finding safe parking.

Patrick Vergelas, mobility services director of Renault, said: “We developed self-driving for our typical clients to give them extra time on motorways or in jams, free them from the work of driving and boost safety.

“We can also use them to offer a new type of mobility; bought by transport operators they would increase the availability of public transport on the outskirt of towns, perhaps late at night or early-morning and even door-to-door like taxis.”

Mr Vergelas said the tests would clarify how the car works in real situations and how the systems tell the car to behave.

Asked if the car would beep the horn “like a French driver” he said it had means to make sure other road users knew it was there, “including the horn”.

Guillaume Buiron of Matmut said: “All insurers are concerned with the moral problem of blame in an accident.

“Here we insure the vehicles in the same way as for public transport but we want to see the problems that arise.”

Renault ZOEs are called ‘Level Four’ automated and do not need a driver but one will be in place for legal reasons until the law evolves. Festooned with sensors and cameras, they will drive at city speeds.

Renault’s tests put it head to head with US rivals Google and Waymo plus Volkswagen, Volvo and General Motors.

Renault sees driverless electric vehicles as part of a plan that aims for half of all production to be made up of electric or hybrid vehicles by 2022. They plan 15 self-driving models and are targetting a 44% rise in sales to reach five million vehicles a year.

It comes as Paris said it would ban diesel vehicles by 2024 and petrol ones by 2030 and moves by France, the UK, China and India to ban fossil-fuel vehicles.

Driverless vehicles have already been tested in France with Renault using the A13 motorway and PSA Citroën the A10 while shuttle buses link Paris Gare de Lyon and Austerlitz and will soon run in the Bois de Vincennes.

Transdev has also been running tests in Rouen, La Rochelle Issy-les-Moulineaux and Paris Saclay technology park.

SNCF’s Kéolis is testing robot shuttles at Lyon Confluence and La Défense, but the Paris test was delayed when a man was hit by a bus under human control. The hands-off ‘driver’ test will now run this month.

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