Autonomous vehicles: GRDF joins Montpellier’s CARRETA project

Autonomous vehicles: GRDF joins Montpellier’s CARRETA project
Visuel : Montpellier Méditerranée Métropole

In June 2018, the Government launched the EVRA call for projects aimed at supporting projects for experimenting with autonomous vehicle use cases, and in April 2019, the SAM (Safety and Acceptability of Autonomous Driving and Mobility) project, grouping 13 experiments, was selected. One of them, led by the start-up Twinswheel, concerned the commissioning of 2 logistics droids in Montpellier, it became the Carreta project of Montpellier Méditerranée Métropole, launched in July 2021 with the CARA competitiveness cluster. GRDF has joined the project and a droid equipped with gas sensors will also circulate in the city’s pedestrian zone.

GRDF is the main gas distribution network operator in France, serving more than 11 million customers. In accordance with its public service missions, it designs, builds, operates and maintains the largest distribution network in Europe (204,239 km) in more than 9,500 municipalities, guaranteeing the safety of people and property as well as the quality of distribution.

The Group regularly monitors the watertightness of the distribution network it operates with the help of specially equipped vehicles. The network monitoring vehicles (VSR) used are capable of detecting the smallest particle of methane in the air. Where the VSR cannot pass, technicians monitor the network on foot with geolocated detection devices.

The droid developed by Twinswheel for GRDF will make it possible to carry out this network surveillance in places where VSRs cannot access, such as pedestrian areas in city centers, parks and gardens. Equipped with the same sensors for detecting methane in the air as the VSR, this scale model is above all an aid to humans, since it can carry up to 600 kilos of material. In the event of a suspected leak, a technician performs a series of additional analyses and, if necessary, calls in a response team.

Marie-Françoise L’Huby, Technical and Industrial Director of GRDF, emphasizes:

“For GRDF, participating in this project is a major first and a real opportunity to prepare for the future by experimenting with tomorrow’s technological solutions. Through these experiments in a real context, GRDF can study the future implementation of advanced technologies to serve its public service missions.”

The Carreta project

The Carreta project, co-financed by ADEME as part of the PIA, is one of 16 national experiments selected by the French government to evaluate the development opportunities for the autonomous vehicle sector in France (13 for the SAM project and 3 for the ENA project, Experimentations de Navettes Autonomes (Experiments on Autonomous Shuttles), the other winner of the EVRA APP).

The use cases initially planned in the framework of the project, currently being deployed, concern the delivery of goods in the city, in order to assist letter carriers in the delivery of parcels and mail for La Poste and the delivery of fresh local products to shops and restaurants in the city center for STEF. The monitoring of GRDF’s underground gas networks extends the use cases of the Carreta project to urban services in pedestrian areas, in addition to logistics.

An experiment evaluated by scientists

The evaluation of the maturity and the technological, environmental, economic, social and societal relevance of
economic, social and societal relevance of the solution is at the heart of the Carreta project. Several
research laboratories are involved in the project in order to evaluate :

  • the security of the solution, thanks to the expertise of System X, a French public-private partnership research institute dedicated to digital transformation;
  • the ODDs – Operational Design Domain of the autonomous vehicle
    achievable, through the involvement of CEREMA: under what conditions (weather, infrastructure) can the autonomous vehicle drive safely?
  • user behavior, also with CEREMA;
  • service acceptability, through the Cit.Us Chair at the University of Montpellier and VEDECOM;
  • unit and service environmental analysis, through the Mines d’Alès andENPC;
  • governance, throughENPC, VEDECOM and the Cit.Us Chair at the University of Montpellier.

A three-year project

After a first phase of technical validation of the autonomous vehicles, they will be tested in the pedestrian areas of the Antigone and Ecusson districts. Initially, a surveillance operator will follow them in the vicinity, and later, at a distance. For the GRDF use case, demonstrations will be organized during the day but the driving will be done at night.

Translated from Véhicules autonomes : GRDF rejoint le projet montpelliérain CARRETA