Autonomous car engineers spend countless hours teaching cars to recognize objects and hit the brakes to avoid collisions. But what if there's no time to brake? French automaker Renault shows how it is working on self-driving vehicle dynamic control in a blog post and video, using a test car named Callie.
Renault engineered driving behavior to veer around a sudden obstacle, mimicking the actions of professional human test drivers.
In the video, the car autonomously veers around obstacles that suddenly appear in its path. The car swerves hard to the side, completely avoiding the obstacle, and resumes its path.
Research on self-driving cars is being pursued by a range of automotive and tech companies. The technology has the potential to eliminate or reduce the million plus deaths caused each year by car accidents. Most timelines and predictions put production-ready self-driving cars on public roads in 2021.
The Renault engineers developing the self-driving technology work out of the Renault Open Innovation Lab in Sunnyvale, California, which it shares with Nissan. The two automakers are part of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance. The test car, Callie, is based on a Renault Zoe, an electric car sold in Europe.
The object of the technology that Renault displays here is to have the car avoid an obstacle at speed, just as a very good human driver might. To accomplish this task, its sensors, likely a camera for this exercise, perceive the object suddenly appearing in its path, and then the car's computer tells it how to steer around the obstacle while maintaining speed.
Veering around an obstacle raises the potential that the car will steer into oncoming traffic. However, Carrie Bobier-Tiu, senior researcher at the Renault Open Innovation Lab, says "Our control system works in sync with other systems within the autonomous vehicle -- for example, perception, mapping, and planning -- to provide a safe solution." The car's computer will make sure it has a safe path to find its way around an obstacle. If there were no safe path, it would likely have to rely on braking, and still may hit whatever showed up in its way.
Although this particular technology demonstration was made by Renault engineers, it could end up in future Nissan and Mitsubishi products. Simon Hougard, director of the Open Innovation Lab, says of the technology, "thanks to our strong ties to France and Japan, it can help accelerate deployment for several products in the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance."
With its new Leaf and Rogue models, Nissan will launch a feature called ProPilot Assist, a step toward self-driving that will handle speed control and steering. The technology developed by Renault could eventually take these Nissan models much, much further.