From a video camera to a driverless shuttle bus

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A new type of driverless shuttle has been developed using innovative artificial vision guidance technology that allows reliable and inexpensive location of the vehicle on the roadway. This technology, based on the use of simple video cameras, was developed by researchers at the Institut Pascal (CNRS/Université Blaise Pascal de Clermont-Ferrand/IFMA). (1). It is at the heart of the autonomous shuttle EZ-10 developed by Ligier Group. (2)which will be unveiled at the Michelin Challenge Bibendum in Chengdu (China) from November 11 to 14, 2014.

Since the 2000s, many companies have been trying to make cars autonomous using expensive and sometimes unreliable technologies. (3). In 2003, researchers at the Pascal Institute decided to work on the automatic driving of urban electric vehicles using simple video cameras.
The technology developed is based on two steps. The first aims to identify, in a video acquired during an initial journey made under manual control, all the remarkable points of the environment in the vicinity of the trajectory made. The second corresponds to the automatic mode during which the vehicle constantly monitors its trajectory so that the images delivered by the on-board cameras correspond as closely as possible to the sequence initially filmed. The initial video thus plays the role of a virtual rail that the vehicle must respect while driving in autonomous mode.

Since 2006, researchers at the Institut Pascal, in collaboration with the Ligier Group, have been developing automatic driverless shuttles that can transport up to 10 people in the manner of a horizontal elevator for short trips (of the order of a kilometre). These vehicles, which are intended to be deployed on dedicated sites (industries, airports, amusement parks, etc.), are capable of handling obstacles thanks to laser rangefinders installed at the four corners of the vehicle. The shuttle is thus able to detect the presence of an obstacle 50 metres away and thereby adapt its speed or even stop according to the potential danger. Researchers now plan to focus on managing a fleet of five vehicles at the Michelin Europe Technology Center at the Ladoux site. Their objective: to deal, in real time, with multiple and potentially synchronous requests issued via call stations or smartphones, over an extensive industrial site, in the manner of an automatic taxi.

This reliable and inexpensive localization technology will be unveiled at the Michelin Challenge Bibendum in Chengdu, China, from November 11 to 14, 2014. Equipped with an access ramp for people with reduced mobility, the new EZ-10 shuttle will then be able to transport visitors in complete autonomy.

(1) Within the framework of the IMobS3 Laboratory of Excellence.
(2) It is marketed by EasyMile, a joint venture between Ligier and Robosoft Technology.
(3) Example: Differential GPS (different from commonly used car GPS) are not always reliable, especially in city centres where satellite signals bounce off the facades of buildings. This phenomenon leads to erroneous location calculations.

(Source: CNRS 7 November 2014)

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