Mercedes drives autonomously on the highway
Autonomous driving has been heralded for some time. For the first time, a system can be ordered for the electric and classic Mercedes S-Class which allows exactly this according to level 3. But it currently only works on German autobahns and only during the day.
And a piece of the future begins again, for Mercedes it is even a new milestone in the history of the traditional company. For the first time, and currently only in Germany, a car manufacturer has received government permission to install a system in a production car that allows the driver to hand over responsibility for daily traffic to technology. Until now, people were assisted by various assistance systems in many modern cars, but were only allowed to take their hands off the wheel for a few seconds. Now, assistants are transformed into machines capable of taking control at the touch of a button. The central theme is the daily frustration in motorway traffic jams.
“We want to give back to our customers some of their precious time,” explains Georges Massing, vice president responsible for automated driving within the Mercedes management team. The Drive Pilot supports driver activities on the highway, such as steering, braking, lane keeping or accelerating. With all this, he does not even need to be particularly vigilant. Because as long as the sophisticated system is in control, people can relax and focus on other tasks. “The question of liability is at the heart of the matter. We are now certain that we and, above all, our customers are on the safe side,” says Massing.
“Now I’m driving!” »
First encounter with the unseen part-time captain on Berlin’s ever-busy ring road, the line of all normal cars creeps along the asphalt quite slowly. When merging with current traffic, the system always remains in the role of a co-pilot. More than 30 sensors, various cameras, radar eyes, ultrasound or the so-called lidar, a combination of laser and radar, monitor what is happening around the black S-Class and supply the on-board computer with data. In the central instrument behind the steering wheel, a horde of moving rectangles appears around your vehicle symbol, like in a video shooter. These are all cars around the Mercedes. Welcome to the bustle of a German autobahn near the city.
Then the column picks up speed, deviates a little. An “A” appears on the dashboard, prompting the driver to press one of two buttons within thumbs reach on the steering wheel. A green light immediately signals the turn, as if the car wanted to say: “Now I’m driving, sit down”. Of course, at first there is a kind of unease. Stuck between a van on the left and a large truck in the right lane heading into a slight left turn. The hands involuntarily approach the rim of the steering wheel from their resting place in the thigh area. But the tension does not give way to relaxation any faster than expected. But the sovereignty with which the luxury vehicle moves through the bustle is reassuring.
Traffic jam is the hotspot
In order to savor the new freedom from irresponsibility, stock quotes or the latest news can now be read on the large central screen using a browser, and mobile phones can be used without a hands-free system. Thanks to the high performance of the computer and a good online connection, it would also be possible to stream your favorite series, but you could also watch the S-Bahn pass easily in front of the traffic on the right of the motorway. The distance to the vehicle in front also increases. Because the others are just faster and don’t have a programmed top speed. The Mercedes automatic remains at Tempo 60, so it’s in the law and it’s a prerequisite for Drive Pilot approval.
“Traffic jams are our hotspot,” says engineer Taner Kandemir, “in our test drives, we spent 200,000 hours in traffic jams.” He can live with the current 60 km/h limit as it covers the realm of driving long convoys with constant stops and starts, which in everyday life often stresses customers and requires their constant vigilance. But the airbrake is not the only restriction that future customers will have to accept and pay an extra 5,950 euros for the S-Class or 8,840 euros for the noble Stromer EQS. The Drive Pilot only works on the highway and is not yet able to change lanes, for example when overtaking. Defensive driving is part of the program.
Not the night and the fog
Even at night, in tunnels, in heavy rain or snow or on construction sites, the system refuses to work because the camera eyes still require a good view. But it can also be a role model for other traffic participants. If there is a threat of immobilization, this S-Class is the leader of an escape route. If the sensors, which also keep an eye on the driver, recognize their state of health or worse, the car is carefully stopped in its lane and help is automatically called. “The traffic behind is warned that our car is about to stop,” says Taner Kandemir. For medical check-up, the camera also measures the blink rate of the eyelids, which is a reliable indicator of health status.
Admittedly, the added value of the Drive Pilot is still manageable at the current stage, since above all the strict regulations of the authorities and also the state of the art curb the possible arrogance of the engineers. Nevertheless, a system goes into series production for the first time which makes a driver’s responsibility a problem and on which a good 1000 specialists from various Mercedes departments have long studied and developed. After all, the automaker should be held responsible if the technology causes damage.
Sometimes it’s the small steps with the big tech that move us forward. The good news: Germany is finally becoming a global pioneer again,