Dr. Dieter Zetsche, the head of Mercedes-Benz cars and chairman of Daimler AG, was the company’s keynote speaker at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Although he spoke about several exciting innovations currently in the pipeline, he focused mostly on the unveiling of a fully autonomous prototype vehicle.
Dr. Zetsche described the autonomous car of the future as a sort of luxury “carriage” that could provide a peaceful, relaxing oasis for riders. The prototype was bedecked with touch screens and featured a space-age floating control panel that would let any rider take control of the car.
In a separate interview with Men’s Health magazine, Dr. Michael Hafner, Head of Autonomous Driving and Active Safety at Mercedes-Benz, spoke of the various “levels” of automotive autonomy. A car with no autonomous driving technology would be at Level Zero.
Level One and Two technology encompass features such as adaptive cruise control and Mercedes-Benz Drive Pilot. Dr. Hafner said, “Levels Three, Four and Five would describe systems that let the car do a lot more of the driving.”
Based on Mercedes-Benz’s extensive analysis conducted in their Intelligent World Drive — semiautomated test-drives of an S-Class carried out in Germany, China, Australia, South Africa and the USA — vehicles at Level Three on up to fully autonomous cars are closer to reality than you might think. Hafner said, “2020 and 2021 is the timeframe when we hope we’ll bring those systems into markets.”
Back in the day, many new safety systems such as air bags and anti-lock braking were met with skepticism. Today, Mercedes-Benz has gathered real-world data to justify the extraordinary effort and cost to develop vehicles at Level Three and higher. Government statistics show that 90 percent of all accidents are caused, at least in part, by human error (including impaired driving and texting).
Again, quoting Michael Hafner, “If you let the car do the driving, we get rid of those human errors.” He added, “The car keeps the speed limits. The car is always attentive, never tired, and never had any alcohol, so it’s predictable and it knows what to do if it’s adequately programmed and developed, which of course is what we try to do.”
On a personal note, Hafner said, “When I drive long distances and use my own autonomous systems, and I get out of the car after five hours driving without any stops, I’m relaxed.”
While the CES presentations were aimed to inform and excite participants about near-future developments, Dr. Hafner also spoke about current products and how far along the company is in its goal to make the demonstrated prototype a marketplace reality. Hafner is quoted as saying that the new S-Class raises Mercedes- Benz Intelligent Drive to the next level.
He added, “We are approaching the goal of automated driving more purposefully and faster than many people suspect. From the autumn of 2017, the new S-Class will be able to support its driver considerably better than all systems which have been available to date.”
The new and considerably enhanced driving-assistance functions available in the new S-Class will take the Mercedes-Benz owner closer than ever toward the autonomous driving goal. Currently available enhancements include Active Distance Assist DISTRONIC and Active Steering Assist that now support the driver even more effectively in keeping a safe distance. Both steering and vehicle speed are also automatically adjusted in bends and at road junctions. On board as well are Active Emergency Stop Assist and a considerably improved Active Lane Change Assist.
In addition to the autonomous driving prototype were products and concepts that focused on the four strategic pillars of Connected, Autonomous, Shared & Services and Electric, called CASE. This new corporate strategy combines what Mercedes-Benz considers the four mega-trends that will fundamentally change the concept of mobility in the not-so-distant future. You will learn more about CASE in future editions of Highways.