Renault has completed the three-year Tornado research project in France exploring and understanding the technology required, and conditions needed, for autonomous vehicles to work away from built-up urban areas. The manufacturer says its trial was made up of two key experiments, including one completed using a specially developed autonomous Renault ZOE.
Starting in September 2017, in a region to the southwest of Paris, the Tornado project, led by Groupe Renault and Rambouillet Territoires, collaborated with 10 industrial and academic partners. The research project consisted of two key trials: the first was an on-demand and shared car service using an autonomous Renault ZOE to provide a direct link between Gazeran train station and Bel Air-La Foret business park in Rambouillet (southwest of Paris); the second, a separate shuttle service calling at predefined stops within the Bel Air business park itself.
The project’s technical focus was to define and develop autonomous driving solutions, communication technologies and infrastructures, that maximize safety and address the specific requirements for suburban and rural areas. Renault notes that from a safety aspect, everything from hardware and advanced software to embedded and remote solutions were taken into consideration, as well as vehicle-to-infrastructure communications.
The specific and complex characteristics of quieter, more sparsely populated areas were fully analysed as part of the project, including narrow streets, roundabouts (traffic circles) and tunnels, obstacles which reduce visibility, lack of road markings, plus changes in roadside configurations and boundaries – issues that aren’t always as consistent as they are in urban areas.
Renault’s goal was to have an all-electric Renault ZOE drive autonomously over an eight-mile (13km) journey encompassing all of these varying features and challenges. This journey represented a route that acted as a direct feeder between Gazeran train station and the Bel Air business park. Over the route, tests were conducted on connected infrastructure components such as connected traffic lights and fixed cameras that enable vehicles to see objects beyond their field of perception.
For the autonomous shuttle within the business park itself, users called on the service via the same mobile app as the autonomous Renault ZOE, synced together to provide a continuous, seamless service between the vehicles. According to Renault, this test area concentrated on advanced perception capabilities, using the connected infrastructure’s capabilities to broaden perception, and ensure the vehicle stayed within its safety perimeters.
For the Tornado project to work, the company notes that people’s mobility habits in the area – and their views of autonomous vehicles – needed to be understood. Their level of interest in the possibility of future autonomous transportation services was also key, and how targeted, safe, shared and environmentally friendly mobility could complement existing setups in areas like Rambouillet.
To this end, numerous sessions of autonomous Renault ZOE trials and associated workshops were conducted, studying how autonomous vehicles can be adopted, as well as monitoring the human factors influencing peoples’ feelings toward these new technologies.
From these shared experiences and real-life responses, the technical components could then be upgraded or adapted as necessary to suit the expectations of the user community. For example, one of the changes made, based on the feedback, was the operating speed of the autonomous ZOEs that were in use. In 2019 the vehicle could drive up to speeds of 31mph (50km/h); however because users expected the service to more closely match real-life driving and real-life speed limits, they were allowed to drive up to 43mph (70km/h) along certain parts of the route.