A ‘ghost town’, where there are no inhabitants to be found, but there are traffic lights, roundabouts and bus shelters: welcome to Transpolis, the life-size playground for the inventors of future mobility.
Built in 2018 on 77 hectares of the former Fromentaux military base between Saint-Maurice-de-Rélens and Leyment (Ain department), Transpolis is an uninhabited town. However, it is a real town where self-driving vehicle constructors, road network companies, machine-to-machine communication specialists and bus operators can test their inventions, particularly from a safety perspective. ‘Nobody in Europe has this,’ says Stéphane Barbier, development director for the operating company, located roughly 50 kilometres from Lyon.
For this unorthodox director, Transpolis is a gamble: ‘Tomorrow, vehicles, be they self-driving or not, will communicate with infrastructures,’ he explains. A budget of 20 million euros was necessary to implement the project that began ten years ago. Industrialists and public authorities pulled out all the stops: three Euro NCAP crash-test sites inherited from the former Lyon-Saint-Exupéry site, a one-kilometre-long motorway and a network of smaller winding roads just like in the countryside. Above all, an ultra-connected, 30-hectare town with 12 kilometres of ‘streets’ reclaimed from a former military ammunition storage site.
The chewing gum town
Here, everything is flexible and modular: just like in a film studio, we write the scenario then equip the site accordingly. In this way it is possible to make the road wider or narrower, change the road markings, alter crossroads. It is also possible to create rainy or foggy conditions over a certain distance. If necessary, the town can also come to life, using pedestrian or cycling robots or even real-life role players. ‘Just like a film,’ says Stéphane Barbier with a smile.
Transpolis has been designed for connectivity, particularly for communication between vehicles (V2V), with infrastructures (V2I) and third parties (V2X). Underground, there are 300 km of fibre optics and supply points to which equipment can be connected (traffic lights, signs, street lighting, etc.). Even more incredible is the development director’s announcement that the site will serve as a test site for 5G. Thus, Bouygues Telecom and Ericsson telephone suppliers have installed a large antenna to test 5G applications enabling self-driving vehicles and ‘intelligent’ safety equipment to communicate with each other.
One of the first contracts was concluded as part of the Avenue project, which intends to establish self-driving vehicles in several European towns, including Lyon. The development director confirms that electromobility will have its place. One hundred kilovolt-amperes will supply a network of charging stations deployed in situ. Both light and heavy vehicles will be able to plug into them. An induction track or road electrification equipment might then be added. ‘This cannot be tested in “real life”’, Stéphane Barbier explains, ‘But here, we can imitate critical conditions so that everything will be up to standard in real life.’