Car news

13 February 2014

Renault's self-driving car for the future is here

Renault's Next Two prototype can not only drive you to your destination on its own, but find an empty space and park itself there. And it's coming in six years' time

Amaan Ahmed
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The idea of having a car drive on its own is slowly finding its feet. The French government has come up with a 'New Face of Industry in France' programme which involves autonomous cars in a big way, and this campaign is led by Renault boss Carlos Ghosn, who is responsible for harnessing the best out of all the resources available in the country, and making self-driving cars a real-life option.

What you see here is Renault's first attempt at building its very own "look-ma-no-hands" car, labeled the Next Two. Based on a Zoe, the Next Two prototype is still fueled by electricity. The electric motor makes around 87bhp and more importantly, 220Nm of torque, all of which is made available the moment you step on the gas. Mechanically, it stays untouched, so by the looks of it, the Next Two is a Zoe painted an eco-friendly green.

The point of this whole exercise is to reduce human error-induced road accidents and provide "productive and pleasurable" time to the driver.

But there's more to it than meets the eye. You see, the Next Two is fitted with Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS), which consist of a single sensor placed on the front bumper, a camera fixed to the bottom of the rear-view mirror, an ultrasound field and a control unit. They're quite simple in the way they work, these things - the sensor calculates the distance between itself and the car in front, as well as what speed it's doing, while the camera reads the lane markings. Both of them relay the information to the computer, which operates the control units for the steering, motor and brakes. If the sensor thinks the car in front is too close for comfort, it applies a mild dab of the brakes, and if the car's veering off course, a slight steering correction will ensure it stays within its lane.

Remember, all this happens after you've pressed the "A" button on the console. Once you've done that, sit back, relax. There will be specific congestion-prone zones where the "delegated driving" bit will come into effect, on roads where there are no pedestrians, no cyclists, and cars are moving at a speed of less than 30kph. This, says Renault, will help drivers find more time for themselves, as while the car tootles along, they can be part of video conferences, buy things they don't need off e-commerce websites, share memes on social networks, and other such important activities using the super-versatile dash-mounted touchscreen tablet.

Also included is a head-middle display which is fixed right behind the steering wheel. What it does, is when working with the satnav, it presents a real-time picture of where the car is headed, with an arrow pointing in the direction the car needs to be going next. It also tells the driver what exactly is it doing when it is in autopilot mode, and informs him/her when it's time for the driver to take charge of the vehicle.

More useful is the Automated Valet Parking feature. Here, the car drops you off at your destination, where you can use an app on your smartphone to ask your car to find itself a parking spot. In a parking lot specifically designed for such vehicles, the Next Two will locate an empty slot, and wriggle itself into it. You can also ask it to come and fetch you from the spot it dropped you off at, using your iWinAndroid. We wonder if it could loiter around lanes and whistle at passersby if you leave it to its own devices.

The point of this whole exercise is to reduce human error-induced road accidents (which Renault pegs at 90 per cent of all incidents), and provide "productive and pleasurable" time to the driver. This tech is reasonably affordable, and can easily be fitted to cars in the near future. Near future, in this context, is the year 2020.

Watch a video of how the whole thing works below, and tell us, how comfortable would you be with a car driving itself while you fiddle around in the driver's seat? And more importantly, how would you utilise your new-found spare time on the move?

Tags: autonomous cars, next two, zoe, renault

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