The expert view: Ligier & autonomous vehicle revolution in cities

Francois Ligier is the CEO of the Ligier Group – a major player in business and public transport. In this interview, he talks about autonomous mobility and outlines his projects.

Francois Ligier talks us through the history and context of the development of autonomous vehicles at Ligier.

The first project on autonomous mobility for the general public got underway in 2007 with the development of a new concept: known in French as the VIPA (Individual Autonomous Public Vehicle). The project was carried out in collaboration with the “Institut Pascal” in Clermont Ferrand. The challenge was to show that the technology had value. The fact that any autonomous vehicle operating in isolation is not enough, was demonstrated in the initial test phase. The new technology must be supervised and the cars should be managed as a fleet. In this way, they can communicate with each other.

Other work has been carried out on the subject, most notably by the Robosoft company, a pioneer of robotic solutions (transport, personal services and solutions) which develops software and programs for driverless vehicles.

In 2014, Ligier and Robosoft decided to go one step further. Together, they created “Easymile”, a Toulouse-based company, allowing the two partners to pool their expertise to develop and produce a real solution for mobility: leading to the creation of the EZ10 “Easy Ten”, the completely autonomous vehicle.

The vehicle can carry up to ten people (6 seated and 4 standing or one wheelchair). There is no driver and a hybrid system of geolocation and a security decision-making system guarantees a high level of safety. It also features an anti-collision function.

“The challenge: to demonstrate that the technology has value”

Solutions for mobility are for private roads only. Current legislation does not allow for work on autonomous mobility solutions to be carried out on public highways. However, there are many opportunities on private roads, where there is a great need for mobility over short and medium distances: for example, for sites like hospitals, universities, amusement parks or industrial complexes.

The challenge for a system like this is to enable the vehicles to circulate without constraints and how to modify the infrastructure. The EZ10, for example, does not need any special modifications. The vehicle has all the technology needed to work out all the journeys it will make. An operator steers the EZ10 with a joystick while it maps out its route. It can then pinpoint its location and embark on its planned journey without being driven.

Security is guaranteed through virtual bumpers. These protect the vehicle and adapt its movements according to the conditions on the road. For example, if a journey has been programmed and obstacles are then identified, the EZ10 modifies its speed to take the situation into account. The EZ10 is a level 5 vehicle, the maximum rating in terms of autonomy.

“The EZ10 is a level 5 vehicle, the maximum rating in terms of autonomy.”

The exciting results of this project have had definite benefits for the Ligier business: 30 vehicles are already in use and 70 more will be produced to be in operation by the end of 2017. Many countries have already adopted the technology: Japan, Dubai, Australia, Singapore and many others have already understood the benefits of this new means of mobility. Another benefit is that it can evolve and adapt to the needs of each site: for example, the number of journeys and vehicles can be modified depending on the day and the level of traffic.

To conclude, it is important to emphasise that this solution is 100% French.

 

[Opteven Lab’]: Will collective and goods transport be important factors in the development of autonomous vehicles?

[Francois Ligier]: The EZ10, marketed by Easymile, is solely for passenger transport.

 

[OL’]: What are the similarities between your own vehicles and the EZ10?

[FL]They are both:

  • made in the same place, the EZ10 being produced on our site that makes “licence-free” vehicles
  • made with similar materials.
  • The skills developed for the design, manufacture, distribution and development of the EZ10 will also be used in the long term for traditional vehicles
  • Some of the technical processes are the same.

 

[OL’]: Will new careers develop as a result of the maintenance and management of autonomous vehicles?

[FL]: Yes, especially those linked to the supervision of vehicles and breakdown services. This includes identifying problems as well as resolving and monitoring any breakdowns.

 

[OL’]: Which countries are leading the way in using autonomous vehicles?

[FL]: Many countries are interested in new forms of mobility and autonomous vehicles, particularly Japan and the United States, and more specifically in California.

 

[OL’]: Could the concept of the autonomous vehicle be adapted for public transport?

[FL]: It could be a response for the need to develop “multi-modal” systems of transport. It could also supplement other systems already in place.

Interview by Marine Gouttenoire and Anne-Sophie Lesur