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French Self-Driving Car Takes to the Road

French researchers have created an autonomous vehicle designed to test automotive safety systems

2 min read
French Self-Driving Car Takes to the Road

Quasper France autonomous vehicle

Autonomous vehicle projects are picking up speed -- literally. Leading the pack is Google's famed robot car, which has logged thousands of kilometers driving on public roads. But there are projects also in Italy, Germany, the U.K., and reportedly China.

Now we've learned about an interesting self-driving vehicle developed in France. The video below shows how the car works and some road tests, including one in which a "polystyrene pedestrian" is thrown in front of the vehicle:

The car was developed by a team from IFSTTAR, a French R&D organization, and the Embedded Electronic Systems Research Institute at ESIGELEC, an engineering school in Rouen, in the Normandy region. The goal is to develop autonomous vehicle technologies that can help test automotive safety systems.

By using a "driving robot," the researchers can control the exact trajectory, speed, and behavior of a vehicle. "Then we can compare the performance of different safety systems," says Pierre Merriaux, one of researchers involved.

The group modified a Renault Grand Espace by adding a Stahle "robot driver," sensors, cameras, and a control bay on the roof. Merriaux explains that the car is guided by GPS RTK and an iXSea inertial unit, with data acquired and processed using the RTMaps multisensor engine. There are three cameras to monitor the vehicle's surroundings and one forward-facing used to track road lanes and markings. A LIDAR unit at the front detects other cars and pedestrians.

The researchers first tested their robot car manually, driving it with a joystick. Then they let the car drive itself on a test track. They plan to use the vehicle to evaluate safety features under various driving  conditions.

The project is part of a large R&D program called Quasper, which involves a number of French companies and labs, including the Thales Group and INRIA. The aim is to develop sensors and "perception systems" for applications in transportation and security.

More photos:

Quasper France autonomous vehicle

Quasper France autonomous vehicle

Quasper France autonomous vehicle

Quasper France autonomous vehicle

Quasper France autonomous vehicle

Photos and video: IRSEEM/ESIGELEC and IFSTTAR

Merci, Pierre!


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Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

Evan Ackerman

“I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.”

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

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