"Lean back!": Mercedes drives autonomously on the Autobahn

Autonomous driving had been announced for some time.

"Lean back!": Mercedes drives autonomously on the Autobahn

Autonomous driving had been announced for some time. For the first time, a system can be ordered for the electric and the classic Mercedes S-Class that enables exactly that according to Level 3. But it currently only works on German autobahns and only in daylight.

And a piece of the future is beginning again, for Mercedes it is even a new milestone in the history of the traditional company. For the first time, and currently only in Germany, a car manufacturer has received the state blessing to install a system in a production car that allows the driver to hand over responsibility for everyday traffic to the technology. So far, people have been supported by various assistance systems in many modern cars, but were only allowed to let go of the steering wheel for a few seconds. Now the assistants mutate into machines that can take over the command at the push of a button. The central theme is the daily frustration in motorway traffic jams.

"We want to give our customers back some of their valuable time," explains Georges Massing, the Vice President responsible for automated driving in the Mercedes management team. The Drive Pilot takes over the driver's activities on the freeway, such as steering, braking, keeping in lane or accelerating. With all this, he doesn't even have to be particularly vigilant. Because as long as the sophisticated system is in command, people can relax and devote themselves to other tasks. "The issue of responsibility is the core issue. We are now certain that we, and above all our customers, are on the safe side," says Massing.

First encounter with the invisible part-time captain on the always busy Berlin ring road, the queue of all the normal cars pushes rather slowly over the asphalt. When merging into ongoing traffic, the system still remains in the role of a co-pilot. More than 30 sensors, various cameras, radar eyes, ultrasound or the so-called lidar, a combination of laser and radar, keep an eye on what is happening around the black S-Class and feed the on-board computer with data. In the central instrument behind the steering wheel, a herd of moving rectangles appears around the vehicle symbol, like in a video shooting game. These are all the cars around the Mercedes. Welcome to the hustle and bustle of a German autobahn near the city.

Then the column picks up speed, pulling apart a little. An "A" appears in the instrument panel, prompting the driver to press one of the two buttons within thumb's reach on the steering wheel. A green light immediately signals the turning point, as if the car wanted to say: "Now I'm driving, sit back". Of course, at first there is a kind of uneasiness. Stuck between a van on the left and a big truck in the right lane heading for a gentle left turn. Involuntarily, the hands approach the steering wheel rim again from their resting place in the thigh area. But the tension does not give way to relaxation any faster than expected. But the sovereignty with which the luxury vehicle moves in the hustle and bustle is reassuring.

In order to savor the new freedom of irresponsibility, stock prices or the latest news can now be read on the large central monitor with the help of a browser, and cell phones can be used without a hands-free system. Thanks to the high computer performance and good online connection, it would also be possible to stream your favorite series, but you could also watch how the S-Bahn easily pushes past the traffic to the right of the motorway. The distance to the vehicle in front also increases. Because the others are simply faster and don't have a programmed top speed. The automatic Mercedes remains at Tempo 60, so it is in the law and is a prerequisite for the approval of the Drive Pilot.

"The traffic jam is our hotspot," explains engineer Taner Kandemir, "during our test drives we spent 200,000 hours in traffic jams". He can live with the current limit of 60 km/h because it covers the area of ​​long convoy driving with constant stop-and-go, which in everyday life often stresses customers and requires their constant vigilance. But the speed brake is not the only restriction that future customers will have to accept and pay an additional charge of 5,950 euros for the S-Class or 8,840 euros for the noble Stromer EQS. The Drive Pilot only works on the freeway and is not yet able to change lanes, for example for overtaking. Defensive driving is part of the program.

Even at night, in tunnels, in heavy rain or snow or on construction sites, the system refuses to work because the camera eyes always require a good view. But it can also be a role model for other participants in traffic. If there is a threat of standstill, this S-Class is the leader of a rescue lane. If the sensors, which also keep an eye on the driver, recognize his medical condition or worse, the car is carefully stopped in its lane and help is called automatically. "Traffic behind is warned that our car is about to come to a standstill," says Taner Kandemir. For the medical check, the camera also measures the frequency of blinking of the eyelids, which is a reliable indicator of the state of health.

Admittedly, the added value of the Drive Pilot is still manageable at the current stage, since above all strict regulations from the authorities and also the state of the art put the brakes on possible cockiness on the part of the engineers. Nevertheless, a system is going into series production for the first time that makes the responsibility of a driver an issue and on which a good 1000 specialists in various departments at Mercedes have researched and developed for a long time. After all, the car manufacturer must be held liable if the technology causes damage.

Sometimes it's the small steps with big technology that bring us forward. The good news: Germany is finally a global pioneer again,


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