Safran, a defense contractor, and Valeo, an automotive parts manufacturer, equipped a Volkswagen CC with radar, lidar and all-round camera kit for their demonstration. The vehicle was let loose on a winding track around Paris' National Army Museum.

The partners wanted to demonstrate how close the European automotive industry is to its goal of having self-driving cars for sale for 2020. The stakes are high for those countries that lead in teh technology. A study by the Uk'S Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders last week claimed 320,000 new jobs could be created through the development of connected and driverless cars.

Self driving cars French style
The first self-driving cars on the market will be semi-autonomous - only taking control in stop-start urban traffic. That's what Safran and Valeo demonstrated in Paris. Image: IDGNS

The French trial car drove through a simulated urban environment with traffic lights, slow-moving or stopped vehicles ahead, speed limits of 20 km/h or less, and, of course, pedestrians. For instance, the car glided to a halt a few meters behind a stopped vehicle, moving on as soon as the way was clear.

It also respected stop signals and slowed gently at a variable sign indicating the speed limit had dropped to 10 km/h. And when an onlooking crowd spilled into the road at the circuit's finish line, the car pulled up cautiously a few meters short of the line.

Vehicle manufacturers expect the first self-driving cars on the market to be semi-autonomous - initially only taking control in stop-start urban traffic. That's roughly what Safran and Valeo demonstrated in Paris.

Valeo industrial designer Jean-Patrick Favier used the demonstration to show how drivers will engage and disengage the "autopilot" using two touch-sensitive display panels on the steering wheel.

Smartphone manufacturers are pushing Android Auto or Apple's CarPlay as interfaces for infotainment. Favier said: "CarPlay will be limited in the number of applications you can use as it's designed to be used while driving." Valeo expects self-driving cars to connect instead via interfaces developed for home entertainment systems, such as AirPlay, Chromecast and Miracast, which will deliver more applications, he said.

Safran and Valeo also demonstrated other technology they're developing for future vehicles, including a Bluetooth locking system aimed at car rentals and sharing, and a precision inertial guidance system for when GPS is unavailable.