Current Mercedes models offer several semi-autonomous driving options. Collision Prevention Assist Plus uses radar to give warnings and assist with braking in the event of an imminent collision. Attention Assist monitors the driver’s attention level and provides warnings if necessary to keep the driver alert. Blind Spot Assist uses radar technology to sense when another car is in the blind spot of the Mercedes. Lane Keeping Assist uses road markings to detect when the car drifts out of its lane, and then alerts the driver by vibrating the steering wheel.
In addition to the more standard semi-autonomous features, Mercedes’ new E-Class vehicles offer the Mercedes-Benz Intelligent Drive System. This system includes many autonomous features, such as Driving Assistance or Distronic Plus, which is designed to work on highways and country roads and will be able to follow the car ahead, keeping the correct speed and distance from the front car and even stopping your car if necessary. This system even offers steering assistance on straight roads or gentle curves. Interestingly, an article on the Mercedes website specifically notes that the system “is not necessarily dependent on clearly visible lane markings as it can also intervene actively if the lines on the road are unclear, as is often the case in road works, or even if there are no lines on the road at all.” Since the dependence on lane markings has been tagged as a potential problem for driverless cars, it is striking that Mercedes is already working on technology to address this issue.
The E-Class will also offer Active Brake Assist, which can warn the driver of imminent accidents and assist in braking to avoid them. This system will detect other upcoming vehicles, traffic jams, and pedestrians. Another braking feature will rely on sensors in the rear bumper to make rear-end collisions safer, applying and holding the brakes in such a situation. While Mercedes currently offers Parking Assist, another new E-Class feature will eventually be Remote Parking Pilot, which takes autonomous parking assistance to the next level by allowing a driver to move his vehicle into and out of parking spaces remotely by using a smartphone app. This would allow for parking in very tight spaces, as the doors would not need to open in the parking space.
Car to car communication is a huge component on the path to autonomous driving, and the E-Class will be equipped to support the exchange of information between vehicles. This will allow drivers to be aware of what lies ahead on their route, hopefully leading to less congestion and fewer accidents.
Interestingly, Mercedes received criticism in 2016 when it advertised its E-Class vehicles as "self-driving," as critics argued that this was not an accurate portrayal of the cars' capabilities and that it gave drivers a false sense of security. The ads using the "self-driving" term were eventually pulled from circulation. Mercedes also faced scrutiny in 2016 when one of its safety executives stated that in a situation where an autonomous car had to choose between hitting pedestrians and saving its driver, it should always choose saving its driver.
Nevada has given Mercedes a license to test its E-Class cars in full autonomous mode on its roads. While many self-driving test cars are easy to spot, these cars will appear more traditional, as Mercedes simply made a few adjustments to the E-Class cars currently on the market. The cars will still have drivers, who will be required for turning, merging, and departing from the highway. For an article about the Nevada testing, read http://fortune.com/2016/01/07/mercedes-self-driving-car/.
In Germany, Mercedes is using self-driving technology in trucks between the Denkendorf and Stuttgart airport. These trucks use technology that enables then to operate autonomously on the highway, continually observing the area ahead of the truck. In 2015, Nevada granted licenses for these trucks to be operated on its public roads using “Highway Pilot,” which autonomously helps the truck stay in its lane and avoid collisions, and also controls the speed, steering and brakes of the truck. A driver is still required, and a screen on the dash displays relevant information to the driver while the Highway Pilot is enabled. For an article on the trucks being operated in Nevada, go to http://www.informationweek.com/mobile/mobile-business/first-automated-truck-licensed-to-operate-on-public-roads/d/d-id/1320311.
In Amsterdam in 2016, Mercedes began testing a semi-autonomous bus program known as Future Bus. In July 2016, one of these busses navigated a route of over 12 miles. Though the bus had a driver on board, Mercedes asserts that autonomous busses could lead to much more efficient travel, with the bus able to communicate with city infrastructure. Also, autonomous busses would likely offer more comfortable rides, as sudden starts and stops would be more limited.
Like other companies, Mercedes' ultimate goal is to produce Level 4 and 5 autonomous vehicles. Interestingly, in 2016, Mercedes stated that in these fully autonomous cars, the vehicles would be programmed to protect the life of the driver/passenger at the risk of the lives of others outside the vehicle.