Cape Town - Although it’s impressive to hear of the progress that autonomous cars are making in tests abroad, we’ve often wondered how these advanced machines would cope on South Africa’s hectic road network.

Now Mercedes-Benz is taking up that challenge with the fourth leg of its Intelligent World Drive, with its Mercedes-Benz S-Class test mule conducting automated test drives on various roads in the Western Cape.

This ‘world tour’ of sorts has so far seen it tackle city and highway traffic in Germany, China and Australia, but the latest leg is likely to be its biggest challenge yet.

According to Mercedes-Benz, the Western Cape test drives will focus on pedestrian detection in a host of “unfamiliar” situations, both in dense Cape Town traffic as well as in rural areas. 

South Africa’s often unpredictable pedestrian behaviour calls poses particular challenges for the sensor systems of automated vehicles, due to the increased level of awareness required.

Another important component of the test will be on collecting data on road signs that are particular to the region, validating the latest digital map material from HERE and pondering solutions to other challenges, such as the many stop streets without stop signs, insufficient warnings for speed bumps and so on. 

The data collected during the test drives will help Mercedes-Benz to further develop its camera and radar systems which will form the most important component of its future automated driving systems.

But how has the big driverless Benz performed on local roads thus far? Mercedes-Benz won’t say just yet, but you can be sure that our challenging driving conditions will prove invaluable from a research point of view.

Oh, and strictly the test vehicle is not actually driverless - for legal and safety reasons there is always somebody behind the wheel ready to take over when things go awry.

IOL Motoring