Autonomous driving in the tracks of Bertha Benz
With the S 500 INTELLIGENT DRIVE research vehicle, Mercedes-Benz demonstrated the feasibility of autonomous driving on both interurban and urban routes.
In August 1888, Bertha Benz set off on her famous first long-distance automobile journey from Mannheim to Pforzheim. In doing so, the wife of Carl Benz demonstrated the suitability of the Benz Patent Motor Car for everyday use and thus paved the way for the worldwide success of the automobile. Precisely 125 years later, in August 2013, Mercedes-Benz recorded a no less spectacular pioneering achievement following the same route. Developed on the basis of the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class, the S 500 INTELLIGENT DRIVE research vehicle autonomously covered the approximately 100 kilometers (62 miles) between Mannheim and Pforzheim, while negotiating dense traffic and complex traffic situations.
“This S-Class spells out where we’re headed with ‘Intelligent Drive’ and what tremendous potential there is in currently available technology,” says Dr. Dieter Zetsche, Chairman of the Board of Management at Daimler and Head of Mercedes-Benz Cars. For the Mercedes-Benz S 500 INTELLIGENT DRIVE research vehicle was equipped with production-based sensors for the project. Based on a further development of the sensor technologies already in use in the new S-Class, the 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 vehicle is able to negotiate its own way through traffic.
“With our successful test drives, we have demonstrated that highly automated driving is possible without the luxury of specially closed-off sections of road and relatively straightforward traffic situations,” says Thomas Weber, member of the Board of Management at Daimler with responsibility for Group Research and Head of Mercedes-Benz Cars Development. “In line with the goal of the project, we have gained important insights into the direction in which we need to further develop our current systems in order to enable autonomous driving not just on motorways, but also in other traffic scenarios. Even we ourselves were quite surprised at just how far we have 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,” adds Weber.
This experience will now be incorporated into the engineering of future vehicle generations to be equipped with such innovative, further-developed functions. Thomas Weber stresses: “With the new S-Class, we are the first to drive autonomously during traffic jams. We also want to be the first to provide other autonomous functions in series production vehicles. We are expecting to reach this goal within this decade.”
Partially automated driving is already available to drivers of new Mercedes-Benz E and S-Class models: the new DISTRONIC PLUS with Steering Assist and Stop&Go Pilot is capable of steering the vehicle largely autonomously through traffic jams. This system thus forms the core of “Mercedes-Benz Intelligent Drive,” the intelligent networking of all safety and comfort systems on the way to accident-free and, ultimately, autonomous driving. The now successfully conducted autonomous test drives along the Bertha Benz route allowed the Daimler researchers to gather important information on the challenges that remain to be addressed on the way to highly and fully automated driving and what, for example, still needs to be done to enable a car to navigate safely in highly complex situations. Unnoticed by the public, yet authorized by appropriate official exemptions and certificates, testing of the “Route Pilot” on the Bertha Benz route began in early 2012 with a total of three technology platforms based on the Mercedes-Benz E- and S-Class, which are equipped with all available active and passive safety systems.