Imagine a world where you can select a destination on your satnav, and then relax and sit back as the car drives you there.
Self-driving or autonomous cars came a step closer to reality with the launch of the Mercedes-Benz S500 Intelligent Drive research vehicle, which drove itself from Mannhein to Pforzheim in Germany recently. The more than 100km trip followed in the tracks of pioneer Bertha Benz, who drove the first ever long-distance journey in an automobile along this route exactly 125 years ago.
Although a number of automakers, including Volvo and Nissan, are also working on self-drive cars, the S500 Intelligent Drive research vehicle is a milestone in that it was the first to drive itself in a traffic jam. In heavy traffic the car had to master highly complex situations autonomously with pedestrians, cyclists, traffic lights, roundabouts and trams to contend with.
The feat was achieved with the help of close-to-production technology that – as the Intelligent Drive package – is already available in the recently-launched S-Class. The production S-Class, which is being launched in South Africa next month, employs radar sensors that recognise lane markings, pedestrians and other vehicles and relay this information to a computer which then adjusts the steering, throttle pedal and brakes accordingly. It’s able to brake, accelerate, steer, keep a safe following distance, park, and even avoid collisions all without the help of the driver.
“It’s as if the car is permanently playing speed chess – but in milliseconds and with dozens of opponents at the same time,” says Dr Dieter Zetsche, CEO of Daimler AG.
Mercedes estimates that autonomous vehicles will be available for sale to the public before the end of this decade. -Star Motoring