Renault Demonstrates Autonomous Collision Avoidance in Dramatic Fashion

The automaker thinks self-driving cars can learn from human drivers.

Self-driving cars are supposed to eventually make the roads safer, but primarily through conservative driving. Most companies program their self-driving car technology to rigorously obey speed limits and traffic rules, relying on moderate speeds and an all-seeing suite of sensors to detect danger early enough to provide plenty of reaction time. Renault is taking a different approach.

The French automaker has taught a self-driving car to swerve around obstacles like a professional human driver. The test car, a modified Renault Zoe named “Callie,” can automatically avoid obstacles in its path. To avoid colliding with oncoming traffic, the car scans the path ahead to ensure all is clear before veering out of its lane.

Conventional wisdom states that self-driving cars have an advantage over humans because they never get distracted and behave more consistently, but Renault believes autonomous vehicles still have something to learn from the best human drivers.

“Despite popular belief, the reality is that human beings are pretty amazing drivers, with less than one fatality per 100 million kilometers [about 62 million miles] in most developed countries,” wrote Simon Hougard, Director of Renault Open Innovation Lab, in a Medium post. “Reaching and exceeding that benchmark is essential to improve safety and realize our dreams of autonomous cars, providing more productivity during our morning commutes and robe-vehicle services in city centers. And to do so, we must learn from the best of the best.”

Renault says the best professional human drivers can outmatch autonomous systems in some scenarios, like veering around obstacles. The company tests its self-driving cars against those professionals, whom it calls an “inspiration and a benchmark” for engineers. Of course, the goal is for self-driving cars to eventually exceed the performance of humans.

Future Renault production cars may gain the ability to autonomously veer around obstacles, and the feature may be transferred to partners Nissan and Mitsubishi as well. The Renault-Nissan Alliance is slowly rolling out autonomous-driving tech for production cars, starting with the ProPilot system now available in the United States on the 2018 Nissan Rogue. The automakers hope to gradually add more capabilities until full autonomy is achieved.