Colruyt Group tests self-driving vehicle
Self-driving vehicles are no longer a distant future. Also Colruyt Group is investigating how such vehicles can be of use to us.
Bart Letten, Smart Technics project engineer: “We're looking at how we can use self-driving vehicles or SDVs for the last-mile delivery. This is a fast-growing and competitive market that responds to the global trend of ecological electric transport in densely populated areas. The aim of SDVs - in the long term - is to have one operator manage several vehicles remotely.”
The first test took place on the car park of our new distribution centre in Londerzeel. Bart: “Last week we carried out a test whereby an SDV made a delivery to Londerzeel's Collect&Go pick-up point on the public highway. In this first phase, our main aim is to test the technology, see what it can already do and see how, together with the local and federal authorities, we can provide not only safe but also low-noise and ecological transport on the public highway in an urban environment.” The tests not only provide useful insights for Collect&Go. Other formulas in our group are also following the study with great interest.”
Autonomous with human control
“The vehicle steers itself and accelerates autonomously, but an operator is able to take control at any time. To observe its surroundings, the SDV uses 3 cameras at the front, 2 rear-view cameras and one camera at the back. In addition to the cameras, the vehicle is also equipped with radars, which can measure distances, among other things.” The cameras are able to recognise and identify obstacles, such as cars, cyclists, pedestrians, etc. These images are currently still analysed by the operator but in the long term, artificial intelligence will take over that task.”
This test drive of an unmanned electric vehicle on the public highway is a first. It's the first time in Belgium that a car without a physical driver on board has been on the road. Previous tests with unmanned vehicles always had someone on board. Of course, the drive was organised in complete safety: whereas the CLEVON 1 drives completely autonomously during the test on the Collect&Go car park, on the public highway it was controlled remotely by an operator.
Communication by 4G
The CLEVON 1 vehicle thus works based on vision technology, machine learning and sensors. In a suitable controlled environment, the vehicle - which is able to travel up to speeds of about 50 km/h (with the current agreement to keep it below 25 km/h for the first test phase) - can be operated in autopilot mode. The vehicle will perform many general driving tasks autonomously, with the teleoperator monitoring the vehicle at all times.
The SDV communicates with the operator by 4G. Bart: “It was quite a challenge getting this right. To be on the safe side, the vehicle has 2 SIM cards from 2 different providers to make sure a network is always available. In the unlikely event that both networks fail, the SDV performs a low-risk manoeuvre, which makes it come to a safe stop.”