In an experiment run as part of a conference in Bordeaux on intelligent mobility, the test car made the trip without the help of a driver, at least during the long stretch of smooth autoroute which connects Paris and the southern city.
The Citroën C4 Picasso used in the trial may be nothing special on the outside, but the bog-standard exterior hides a battery of relatively cheap microsensors like those used in aircraft and submarines for a number of years now.
And this cost-effectiveness is what sets the driverless cars of France’s PSA, which produces Citroën, from Google’s better-known self-driving vehicles.
With a 360-degree radar fitted on its roof, the Google car is a different, and far pricier beast – a so-called Level 4 autonomous car, meaning a driver is not required at any time.
The PSA version is a Level 3 car which recognizes situations when the driver needs to take control again and passes it over, although there is a time lag.
But for those who prefer to feel the steering wheel in their hands, there’s no need to panic. It will be some time before commercial version of such driverless vehicles appear in a cul-de-sac near you.
As to the when, any prediction involves a good dose of crystal ball gazing, according to France’s Le Figaro newspaper. We could be looking at ten years, or 20, or 30.
But there is an initial legal stumbling block. The 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic stipulates “Drivers shall at all times be able to control their vehicles”, wording that may be reworked in a 2017 revision of the treaty.
The PSA autonomous car is on show at ITS World Conference in Bordeaux until October 9th.