As Tesla recently announced its new Full Self Driving software, Mercedes-Benz says it has developed a similar system, but won’t allow the technology to yet be used on public and urban roads. German engineers that developed the advanced driver assistant systems (ADAS) are taking a step-by-step approach to releasing new technology, relying on their own insight rather than the public to validate their findings.
While the Mercedes approach is more conservative in nature, Tesla continues to be more bold and determined to push highly automated driving onto public roads, a step that could reduce accidents since computers respond much quicker than the reflexes of humans.
ADAS can provide steering, braking and acceleration support under limited circumstances, generally on highways.
Automakers have stayed away from relying on technology completely, yet Tesla broke this mold with it released its FSD software, which allows computer-powered cars to test their reflexes in inner-city traffic. Mercedes does not allow members of the public to test their systems which are still in an experimental phase. Rather than force their customers to put their trust in processors, software and the ability of machines to learn over time, German engineers want their cars to be validated by engineers so that they remain predictable for owners.
“We do not want blind trust. We want informed trust in the car. The customer needs to know exactly what the car can and cannot do,” a Mercedes spokesman told Reuters on the sidelines of the automaker’s test track in Immendingen, Germany. “The worst thing would be if the car gets into a complex situation and there was ambiguity over whether the car is in control or not,” he said.
For this reason, Daimler has emphasized its decades of experience with ADAS as it seeks to gain regulatory approval for its Level 3 autonomous systems. Level 3 means the driver can legally take their eyes off the wheel and the automaker would assume insurance liability, depending on the jurisdiction. The new Tesla system requires customers to take responsibility for any crash.
Mercedes started using camera-based systems in 2009, offering traffic-light recognition and lane-keeping assistance systems, switching to stereo cameras in 2013, to add depth of field and pedestrian recognition for emergency braking functions. It was on a joined project that Elon Musk of Tesla learned about camera and radar-based systems.
Mercedes plans to launch Drive Pilot next year and is pitching it as an evolution of its Distronic system, launched in 2013, which uses cameras and radar to keep cars in lane and at a distance to the car in front. Drive Pilot will add a new sensor: lidar. It will be used to cross-reference data gathered by radar, ultrasonic sensors, high-definition mapping, radar and cameras.
“It is a paradigm change from Distronic, but it is a strategic evolution. For us, this is the logical next step and it is not shooting for the moon,” said Michael Decker, manager of automated driving at Mercedes.
It will function only on highways in Germany starting in mid-2021, if a new law is passed.