PSA’s aordable autonomous tech
PSA’s a ordable autonomy
HE CARS taking a lead with self-driving tend to be at the expensive end of the market. But makers of more modest cars are busy working on vehicles that will ease our transition to a cleaner, safer future in which we can still be independently mobile. The boffins at PSA – owners of Peugeot, Citroën, DS and now Vauxhall-Opel too – have been figuring out a route to autonomous driving that’s not about sci-fi futurescapes out of Blade Runner; it’s about putting in the hard yards, and not assuming that the highways authorities are in any hurry to enter the digital age.
We spent a day experiencing some of PSA’s prototypes. But first a ride through the Paris suburbs in a current production car, a Citroën C4 Picasso with a familiar set of 2017-spec assistance kit: active cruise control (which lets the driver adjusts speed and distance), lane keeping assistance (which can easily be over-ridden if it’s foxed by peculiar road markings), active safety braking (spotting pedestrians, and stopping the car if you don’t). Simple, intuitive and unintrusive, it’s mostly about helping the driver to stay out of trouble.
And then we got into a Peugeot 3008 development mule testing some of the technology that’ll soon start arriving on production cars, with the imminent DS7 Crossback set for Level 2 autonomy (‘driver-supervised automated driving’). Outside, it’s a regular 3008 but with a lot more scanners, sensors and cameras; most of the really clever stuff can’t be seen. It has built-in mapping (which works even if the GPS signal is weak) so that it always knows where autonomous driving is and isn’t allowed and can tell the driver it’s time to take over. It can park itself. It checks you’re awake. It can spot pedestrians and wildlife 100 metres ahead at night. You press the Highway Chauffeur button and it will drive itself, in some circumstances. For instance, it can perform flawless overtakes: the driver indicates, but then the car makes a judgement about the timing and speed of the manoeuvre. (Just like on the latest S-Class, but at five times the price of a 3008.)
Currently 20 prototypes are being run by PSA. Since March, more than 1000 non-professional drivers have been out in autonomous prototypes on public roads. As well as finding out which aspects of the new technology need tweaking, and which sensor locations are best for avoiding dirt and damage, the tests are also providing information about how the typical driver interacts with potentially intimidating self-driving features.