How Will Driverless Cars Handle Tollbooths?

Renault and Sanef’s solution involves deploying smart guidance systems around one kilometer before the tollbooth. Using short-range Wi-Fi, the beacon will alert the vehicle that it is approaching the checkpoint.

Michael Cheng
    Aug 01, 2017 9:00 AM  PT
How Will Driverless Cars Handle Tollbooths?
author: Michael Cheng   

At this stage in development, self-driving cars can handle basic maneuvers on open roads very well. They can make three-point turns, parallel park and prioritize cyclists. As developers hone their platforms, the focus now shifts to complex, everyday scenarios encountered by drivers.

Recently, a scenario that received attention from automakers building autonomous vehicles is tollbooths. Renault and PSA Group both separately pledged to provide solutions to passing tollbooths without human assistance. In order to speed up the process, the two manufacturers have formed strategic partnerships. Renault called on Sanef, a French highway operator, to assist in creating a guidance system, which includes smart beacons, for self-driving cars.

On the other hand, PSA teamed up with Vinci, a French company that specializes in road infrastructure. The brand announced the timely collaboration just two days after Renault.

One Problem, Two Solutions

The solutions that were formed by the two collaborations vary greatly. The main problem with tollbooths is the lack of lanes and markers that sensors on autonomous cars use to avoid collisions. Furthermore, when a fickle-minded (human) driver changes lanes, it is often abrupt and unpredictable due to limited space – even when he or she signals intention using turning lights.

"Maximizing safety for drivers, passengers and others with autonomous cars requires several stakeholders in both government and the private sector working together, each bringing unique expertise," said Renault's Mathieu Lips.

Renault and Sanef's solution involves deploying smart guidance systems around one kilometer before the tollbooth. Using short-range Wi-Fi, the beacon will alert the vehicle that it is approaching the checkpoint. The tollbooth being tested is slightly modified to cater to self-driving cars, though the goal for Sanef is to apply as little modifications to existing tollbooth designs as possible. The duo is currently conducting trials at the A13 freeway in Normandy to make the system more reliable and seamless.

PSA and Vinci

PSA and Vinci's solution for tollbooths incorporates a two-step verification process. A guidance system notifies approaching driverless cars about the presence of the tollbooth at 500 meters. Next, a smart beacon advises the vehicle about which lanes are open at 300 meters.

"For the vehicles of tomorrow be fully autonomous, they will need to be connected to the smart infrastructures that we are currently inventing," said Pierre Coppey, the chairman of Vinci Autoroutes, in a release. "Motorways are safe infrastructures and a wonderful testing ground. Tomorrow, they will be the place of this new mobility deployment."

So far, the group has been successful in testing their solution using Citroen C4 prototypes. Developers are currently facilitating trials at Saint-Arnault on the A10 highway southwest of Paris. The tollbooth features a whopping 39 lanes, making it the largest in Europe. PSA clarified the trials are for SAE-L4 driverless platforms.

It is important to highlight that the solutions provided by the two groups are for French tollbooths only. In the US, toll collections are typically conducted by independent systems issued by the state. This could make implementation difficult without a national standard. 

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