Mercedes has vowed to launch an autonomous driving car this decade, following a successful trial with its Mercedes S-class Intelligent Drive prototype last month.
The modified Mercedes S500 hybrid followed the same 103km (68-mile) route as Bertha Benz – the wife of Carl Benz - took when she tried the first car 125 years ago, driving from Mannheim to Pforzheim.
Although regulations meant the car had to carry passengers, at no point did they provide an input into the car during a journey which was roughly divided between open roads and tight city driving. Mercedes says all the sensors used on the car are “production based”.
Speaking at the Frankfurt motor show Thomas Weber, head of research and development at Mercedes said: “This trial proved that autonomous driving could be available today.
“Yes, there are obstacles to overcome before it can reach series production, but this journey was as significant as the one 125 years ago – it is the beginning of a new era of individual mobility.”
The S-class Intelligent Drive operates via a sensors and accurate mapping, scanning the road around it for obstacles while working to the maps. Systems include a stereo camera, two long-range radars, four short-range radars, a colour camera to read traffic lights and a rear-facing camera that cameras the view with the mapping, to ensure the car is locating its position accurately.
Weber explained that there are three obstacles to the car reaching production now: the need for even more computing power to enable even greater data processing, optimised mapping that is entirely reliable and a need for legislation to adapt.
“This is a technical revolution, and such things take time,” said Weber. “For instance, if it stops at a zebra crossing and the person crossing waits and motions for the car to go, it still waits – it cannot read gestures yet. But, in time, it will.
“At Mercedes we want to be the first to offer a car that can drive in an autonomous fashion, and my understanding is that will happen this decade.”
Weber conceded that not everyone will want cars that drive for them, but added: “In busy traffic, heading to a busy day at work, who wouldn’t welcome a friend who can drive through the traffic for them.”
Mercedes is already working with the German authorities to adapt regulations to allow autonomous driving. It has identified three types of autonomous driving around which to develop regulations: partially autonomous where the driver must constantly monitor the road, highly automated, where the driver can engage in some non-driving activities, and fully autonomous, where the driver need not monitor the road.
The former is already available on the Mercedes E-class and Mercedes S-class, via its Distronic Plus and Steering Assist systems, which steer the car through traffic jams.