With its S 500 INTELLIGENT DRIVE research vehicle, Mercedes-Benz in August 2013 became the world’s first automobile manufacturer to demonstrate that autonomous driving in rural and urban traffic is possible.
Mercedes-Benz will start selling cars that can fully drive themselves by 2020. But it won’t launch a special vehicle just for that purpose. Rather, it looks to incorporate autonomous driving technology into its regular lineup, most likely starting with its flagship model, the S-Class.
“Our approach is, let’s not do it with a special car with a lot of antennas, let’s do it with a standard car,” said Thomas Weber, head of product engineering for Mercedes.
Recently, an experimental vehicle called the S500 Intelligent Drive completed a journey of more than 60 miles driving completely autonomousl
Weber is confident that some Mercedes cars will be driving themselves within six years because the technology already exists to make it possible. “We have the first autonomous driving function available for our customers in the new S-Class: Stop and Go Pilot,” he says.
The feature, currently available in Europe, allows the car to drive itself in gridlock, with the driver’s hands off the wheel. It can come to a full stop if necessary and accelerate back up to a preset speed while maintaining a set distance from the vehicle ahead. It can also steer itself to stay in the lane. But the feature only works at low speeds. At higher speeds, the system monitors the driver to make sure hands stay on the wheel.
Stop and Go Autopilot is part of a Driver Assistance Package that includes cameras, radar and ultrasound sensors to monitor the road and surroundings. Even though the autopilot function does not work at speeds above 6 miles per hour, it can still help avoid accidents by applying the brakes if a collision is imminent, or by tugging on the steering if the car is about to leave its lane.
The package is available on the 2014 Mercedes S-Class and costs more than $3,000 in Europe. A similar package is available on the S-Class in the United States for $2,800, but it does not include Stop & Go Autopilot.
Weber expects that an enhanced autonomous driving suite would be similarly priced in the future and available on regular Mercedes vehicles such as the S-Class.
Mercedes purposely equipped the self-driving S500 Intelligent Drive experimental vehicle exclusively with cameras and sensors already available on its production vehicles to prove that the technology is indeed ready for the real world and isn’t just a pipe dream.
SOURCES – Youtube, Forbes