Self-driving Mercedes

self-driving mercedes

The Mercedes-Benz group, rival of BMW,  has created a self-driving Mercedes, named the Mercedes S 500 Intelligent Drive, as a research vehicle. It was unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show, carrying Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche to the podium to deliver his presentation with no driver in sight.

 

The self-driving technology.

The German car-maker has been working on it’s driverless self-driving (autonomous) technology for years.

The self-driving S 500 research vehicle was equipped with production-based sensors for the project. Developers taught the technology platform to know where it is, what it sees and how to react autonomously. With the aid of its highly automated ‘Route Pilot’, the self-driving vehicle was able to negotiate its own way through dense urban and rural traffic. The driverless S-Class was also able to deal with some difficult situations involving traffic lights, roundabouts, pedestrians, cyclists and trams.

Cameras and lasers built into its chassis map a 3D model of its surroundings when it is driven manually, which is fed into a computer stored in the boot. The self-driving car can then ‘remember’ routes. It prompts the driver via an iPad on the dashboard to engage the autopilot and, at a touch of the screen, the car assumes control. A laser at the front scans 164ft ahead 13 times per second for obstacles, such as pedestrians, cyclists, or other cars in an 85-degree field of view. If it senses an obstacle, it slows and comes to a controlled stop. The driver can tap the brake pedal to regain control of the vehicle from the computer.

Existing technology already partly automates driving to assist during, for instance, traffic jams, by maintaining a safe distance with the car in front.

 

The self-driving vehicles test drive.

Mercedes has become the first manufacturer to demonstrate the feasibility of autonomous driving on both interurban and urban routes. In August, the S 500 Intelligent Drive was sent to retrace the pioneering 100km drive of Karl Benz’s wife, Bertha, when she traveled from Mannheim to Pforzheim 125years ago. Bertha’s was the only car on the road in August 1888. In the heavy traffic of the 21st century the self-driving S-class had to deal autonomously with a number of highly complex situations such as traffic lights, roundabouts, pedestrians, cyclists and trams. This was achieved with the aid of near-production-standard technology, very similar to that already found in the new E- and S-class.

The autonomously driving S-Class was monitored during the extensive testing procedure by specially trained safety drivers who, whenever the system made an incorrect decision, were able to intervene immediately and take control of the vehicle. Because real traffic is unpredictable – which means that no driving situation is exactly the same as an earlier one – a record was made each time it became necessary for the safety driver to intervene. This information was then evaluated by the development team, thus making it possible to extend the vehicle’s repertoire of manoeuvres, enabling it to cope with more and more traffic situations.

 

Problems with the self-driving technology.

A particular challenge for autonomous vehicles is the way in which they communicate and interact with other cars. Coming to an agreement with an oncoming vehicle on who should proceed first around an obstruction is something that requires a very great deal of situational analysis.

“Where a human driver might boldly move forward into a gap, our autonomous vehicle tends to adopt a more cautious approach.” said Prof Ralf Herrtwich, head of driver assistance and suspension systems at Daimler. “This sometimes results in comical situations, such as when, having stopped at a zebra crossing, the vehicle gets waved through by the pedestrian – yet our car stoically continues to wait, because we failed to anticipate such politeness when we programmed the system.”

 

Comments on the self-driving vehicle.

Daimler’s CEO, Dieter Zeische commented that, “For us, autonomous vehicles are an important step on the way to accident-free driving. They will bring greater comfort and safety for all road users. That’s because autonomous vehicles also react when the driver is inattentive or fails to spot something.”

Head of Daimler’s research and development, Professor Thomas added, “Even we were quite surprised at just how far we got using our present-day sensor technology. But now we also know how much time and effort is needed to teach the vehicle how to react correctly in a host of traffic situations – because every part of the route was different. With the new S-Class, we are the first to drive autonomously during traffic jams. We also want to be the first to bring other autonomous functions in series production vehicles. You can expect that we will reach this goal within this decade.”

Daimler has announced it will start selling the Mercedes S 500 Intelligent Drive, it’s self-driving vehicle by 2020 if not before.

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