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Driverless Mercedes Debuts In Frankfurt

posted 11 Sept 2013, 07:21 by Mpelembe   [ updated 11 Sept 2013, 07:22 ]

Daimler has unveiled its much anticipated self-driving Mercedes Benz at theFrankfurt International car show (IAA). The luxury auto-maker is making incremental improvements to its autonomous technology and plans to have a fully-autonomous vehicle available to consumers by 2020.

 FRANKFURTGERMANY (SEPTEMBER 9, 2013) (VNR DAIMLER AG) -  Germany's Daimler AG plans to start selling a self-driving car by 2020 as part of its campaign to regain the top spot among premium car-makers, its development chief said on Tuesday (September 10).

Daimler's offering is called the Mercedes S 500, andf it was unveiled with great fanfare on Monday (September 9) at the Frankfurt Motor Show, the world biggest, which also puts a focus on electric mobility.

Carmakers and suppliers across the world are working on ways to make driving safer and more comfortable through automation, and the race is on to bring the technology to the mass market.

"This years' production car, our new S-Class with all the sensors on board which a customer can buy these days, we offer as first version to our customers is a stop-and-go pilot and with this research it will be possible to go hundred kilometres fromMannheim to Pforzheim completely autonomously. We learned a lot and step by step we will bring these technology into serious production," Daimler head of development Thomas Weber said.

Daimler sees itself ahead in the race to develop robot cars because it says its technology can handle city driving as well as motorways. It uses readily available sensors rather than specially designed technologies for research vehicles.

Mercedes test vehicle recently traveled the same 100-km stretch between the German cities of Mannheim and Pforzheim that Bertha Benz drove 125 years ago to demonstrate the practicality of the automobile.

The car is designed to operate with and without a driver at the wheel. Radar and other sensors tell a central computer where the car is and what it sees in its vicinity. Colour cameras mounted behind the windscreen can read traffic lights and send signals to the computer which then communicates with the brake systems where necessary. Another camera is pointed to the rear contributing to a digital poisitoning system that tells the car where it is, and where it should go to reach its destination.

Daimler head of Telematic Research, Dr. Ralph Herrtwich says autonomous development will take place incrementally, with the consumer in mind.

"We ourselves were amazed when we did some customer research on whether people like autonomous vehicles or not and the surprising result for us was that really a lot of people would like to have such a feature in their vehicle, not all the time, but in certain situations where driving is not really fun - in a traffic jam, on your daily commute to work. That's where people would like to have that feature and that's why we intend to build it for them," he said.

Daimler, battling to regain the top stop in the luxury car market from German rival BMW, is focusing on highly automated driving, in which cars master situations such as cruising the motorway or maneuvering through traffic jams while the driver relaxes.

The car would recognize difficult situations such as dealing with traffic lights or urban driving among pedestrians and cyclists, and hand control back to the human behind the wheel. But a fully autonomous S500 is still years away from commercial viability. And before travellers can sit back and leave everything to the car, there is the issue of regulation to be resolved.

European Union laws currently call for drivers to be in control of cars at all times, so test vehicles at Daimler and BMW need special approval in Germany.

"Of course we have to discuss with the regulators around the world. Based on the current rules we cannot go autonomously and with this project, the better Benz drive, we have now started the discussion with the overall regulators. Computer power is the other question. We need a lot of computer power to do all these calculations realtime and the last obstacle is navigation data. We need as precise as possible the maps where we go autonomously and also this discussion has started," Weber said.

There's also the challenge of convincing drivers of the technology. "It's very difficult to imagine I think. I think it's very strange to start with but maybe over time you get used to it," said Phil Colman from England, a visitor to the car show. Another IAA visitor, Rudolf Eichmann was not keen to to drive an autonomous car in the future. "It's the attraction of driving that you can decide yourself. If I am being driven, I can also drive with a chaffeur and don'd need a car like this. Some assistance systems make sense, but to be freed completely from driving, no, I can take the bus or a chaffeur, but it wouldn't appeal to me," Eichman said.

Technology already on the market allows partly automated driving in which motorists stay in control but get a hand from the vehicle.

Daimler for instance offers traffic jam assistance, which can maintain distance to other cars in stop-go situations, in its top-line S-Class Mercedes, and BMW will roll this out in its new i3 electric car before the end of the year.

Rivals including Audi and Volvo Cars are moving in the same direction.