This is the function that is already being built into many of the new Mercedes-Benz models, but it is not yet as well known as it could – and should – be. Manoeuvring the car into tight parking spaces is one of the more annoying tasks in everyday traffic. However, drivers of all the Mercedes-Benz vehicles that are equipped with the Active Parking Assist Parktronic are substantially supported while parking. The technology is extraordinary in two ways: first, it makes the driving we do every day significantly easier. And second – like many other assistance systems – it is a precursor to fully automated driving.
These supportive assistance features from Mercedes-Benz have names like Active Speed Limit Assist, Active Emergency Stop Assist, Active Brake Assist with cross-traffic function, and Evasive Steering Assist – to name just a few of them. In most cases, of course, their functions are extremely important: not only do they support the driver, they can also improve passenger safety.
This development is seeing increasingly systematic implementation. In a nutshell, automated driving could eventually allow us to decide whether we want to drive ourselves or let the vehicle take control. There is still a long way to go before we get to level 5 of automated driving and are being driven around city centres by an automated driving service. However, some areas of level 3 of automated driving are almost ready for use in daily life.
Dr Dieter Zetsche, the former CEO of Daimler AG, announced in May 2019: “The new S-Class will take us to the next level. At level 3, the car will be able, under certain circumstances, to travel completely autonomously for long stretches on the motorway.” Dr Martin Hart is responsible for the assistance systems at Mercedes-Benz. He explains it like this: “In the new S-Class, it will be possible, under certain conditions, to take your hands off the steering wheel on the motorway while the car is driving on its own.”
One of the benefits promised by the concept of automated driving is that it will give to the driver the time that is usually lost because the driver has not yet been allowed to turn away from traffic. In some situations, this technology will therefore be particularly advantageous – like for long drives on the motorway – and as this technology becomes a regular part of daily life in these circumstances, this promise is already starting to be fulfilled. For the Mercedes-Benz AG, this is a big step exactly because it proves how much the company trusts this technology.
The way to these developments has been paved by several basic technologies, which provide all the relevant information. Ultrasonic and radar sensors continuously scan the area. These are supported by cameras that use algorithms to not only map the driving environment, but also to interpret the images. Live HD maps provide the precise location of the vehicle within the environment – with real-time updates via cloud connection. There is one task that all technologies have in common: to create a picture of the driving environment that is as precise and as complete as possible. In traffic, it is absolutely crucial that the vehicle can react within seconds, or even milliseconds. To do this, all of the incoming information must be combined and processed at a lightning pace.
“Sensor fusion is at the very pinnacle of environment detection,” explains Michael Maile, head of Sensor Fusion for Mercedes-Benz Research & Development North America, located in Silicon Valley. “That’s what combines all data together. The goal is to create an image of the environment that is as precise as such an image can possibly be.” This is a big challenge out in the heavy traffic of the city centre, as the vehicle must not only differentiate all the various obstacles on the streets, but also identify them. Children on the pavement, adult pedestrians, joggers, cyclists and motorbike riders, parked delivery vans and moving cars all have different and unique motion profiles.
The engineers and programmers at Mercedes-Benz are in the process of developing special algorithms to enable the vehicle to identify them and to assess and predict their behaviour. In the long term, the car’s perception skills must be just as good as those of any person driving on the road. Even the simplest processes that we find obvious as humans must be taught to a computer, and the exact way this must be done can be complicated. The city centre is thus a particularly complex challenge. Fast roads with more regulated, flowing traffic like motorways and highways are simpler, and much easier for the technology to manage.
In the commercial vehicle sector, Daimler Truck AG already offers partially automated driving systems ex works to its three most important markets. These systems are to be found in the Mercedes-Benz Actros, the Freightliner Cascadia and the Fuso Super Great. The next logical step in the commercial vehicle sector is fully automated driving according to SAE level 4. To start with, Daimler Truck AG is focusing on use of the system along defined routes on some American highways between logistics junctions. The ultimate aim is to manufacture this technology in series within the next decade. Fully automated trucks can help fulfil the growing transport demand with an increase in efficiency and productivity, and they can help to potentially enhance safety for everyone on the roads.
Another practical everyday benefit is the innovative parking system, Automated Valet Parking (AVP), which Mercedes-Benz has developed in cooperation with Bosch. The system prototype can be tested now in the Mercedes-Benz Museum. “You simply leave the vehicle in the reception area and pick it up from there again,” explains Dr Martin Hart. “The vehicle does all the rest.” This not only relieves stress for drivers, but also saves something that there can never be enough of: time.
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