Science topics June 2017 InnovationTransportRoad safetyHuman behaviour

By Abdelmename Hedhli, ITS1 special adviser - COSYS department

New information and communication technologies have now become Credit the_lightwriter for Epictura part of our daily lives as examplified in the field of transportation. Intelligent transportation systems (ITS1) thus provide new solutions to remedy the consequences of the massive use of certain mobility modes. They offer a wide scope of application (road safety, traffic management, multimodal information, ticketing, driving assistance, etc.) and involve a large spectrum of technologies among which those related to the development of self-driving and connected vehicles.


A complex and cross-disciplinary topic

Often presented as a major technological breakthrough, self-driving vehicles hold the promise of far-reaching transformations for our societies.

Their adoption by users will depend on how the four key fundamentals are taken into consideration : improving road safety, optimising infrastructure capacity, mitigating impacts on the environment and facilitating mobility for all.

To address these overarching challenges, Ifsttar has for many years made this topic of autonomous vehicles a priority field of research. It has done so in a cross-disciplinary and systemic approach in order to address this complex topic which entails diverse technological, human, legal and societal issues dimensions.


A vehicle that is autonomous but also one that is connected

Whereas the self-driving vehicle is conceptually presented as a mobile robot, the connected vehicle refers to the capability to communicate and share information. Whether it is between vehicles, or between the road infrastructure and the communication infrastructure, these exchanges allow improving the safety and comfort of users as well as the management of infrastructures. Ifsttar, with projects such as SCOOP@F is very much involved in this area.

Although at the present time the research approach and concepts on which self-driving and connected vehicles are based are different, the two will soon become complementary. Indeed, in order to enhance its environment perception capacities, overcome the problems found on a given itinerary and improve safety, the autonomous vehicle will have to be connected to the infrastructure and to the other vehicles.


Homme d’affaires jeune de côté profil se détend dans sa voiture sans conducteur. SIphotography pour EpicturaAnd what about the human driver?
Before these vehicles can be commercially available, i.e. in 2020 according to several French auto-makers, a number of obstacles and technological, regulatory, legal and social hurdles remain to be cleared, in which the human component plays a paramount role. It is also important to bear in mind that the development of autonomous vehicles will be a gradual process and thus entail a transition phase during which roads will be shared by vehicles with and without drivers. In addition, human intervention will remain necessary for as long as vehicle automation is only partial (for instance, level 32 refers to phases where the human driver is requested to resume control).



This special feature offers an insight into the complex topic of ”autonomous vehicles”, the problematics involved and the way they are being studied at IFSTTAR.

“In the following papers, we have chosen to use indifferently "autonomous vehicles", "self-driving" or "driverless vehicles" although in the main title we opted for “automated vehicles” which seems to be the most widely used.”

1 Intelligent transportation systems or systèmes de transport intelligents (STI) in french
2 There are six levels to qualify vehicle automation or autonomy as defined by the American Society of Automobile Engineers (SAE).