|A driver tests Mercedes-Benz's automated driving technology during a test drive at the German-Swiss border. / Courtesy of Mercedes-Benz|
By Jhoo Dong-chan
ZURICH, Switzerland _ Self-driving vehicles are considered one of three core technologies that define future mobility along with eco-friendly and connected vehicles.
Not only top global automakers but also IT powerhouses such as Google and Apple, have been investing massively to develop driverless vehicles. Korea's largest IT giant Samsung Electronics has also recently joined the race by acquiring U.S.-based auto parts supplier Harman, heating up the competition for future mobility.
Among these big names carrying out such cutthroat rivalry, Daimler Group is one of very few automotive firms that successfully introduced not only the advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) but also partial self-driving technology in its mass-produced model _ the Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedan.
Mercedes-Benz is the Stuttgart-based multinational automotive group's luxury car making affiliate, and an official said the company is confident of introducing fully autonomous driving vehicles within five years but the related legal framework isn't there yet.
"I believe the technology is already there," Mercedes-Benz S-Class Quality Development manager Dominik Voogdt said during a press test drive event for the 2018 S-Class at the Dolder Grand hotel in Zurich, Switzerland.
"Mercedes-Benz's technologies for self-driving vehicles are exceptional. Especially, its RADAR censor system is more precise and accurate than its competitors. Along with our vehicles' camera sensors, Mercedes-Benz vehicles can detect various traffic environments to allow for autonomous driving."
RADAR is a ranging and positioning system that uses radio waves to identify the size and position of objects. The system has started to be widely used for cars along with LiDAR to develop autonomous driving technology. LiDAR is based on lasers to calculate accurate surface measurements. Compared to RADAR, LiDAR is more target-selective.
Voogdt said, however, the lack of related traffic laws hinders self-driving vehicle development.
"It is regrettable that related traffic laws for such technologies aren't there yet. It is, of course, an automaker that delivers the technology, but the authorities should also work on the legal framework to get driverless vehicles on the streets," he said.
Mercedes-Benz's latest self-driving technologies were first introduced in Korea when the company unveiled the E-Class sedan in May last year.
The German premium automaker's mid-size sedan model surprised the industry with various autopilot systems, including Auto Parking, hinting at the carmaker's future mobility in self-driving. A Mercedes-Benz design official said the company is now focusing on safety.
"All models of Mercedes-Benz are developed based on safety," said Achim-Dietrich Badstubner of Mercedes-Benz Creative Exterior Design Division.
"It was very difficult to surpass its predecessor models in safety. Mercedes-Benz's latest technologies in safety are all applied to the 2018 S-Class models."
|Mercedes-AMG Product Management expert Tobias Hartmann speaks during a press test drive for the Mercedes-Benz S-Class sedans at the Dolder Grand hotel in Zurich, Switzerland, July 20. / Korea Times photo by Jhoo Dong-chan|
Applied automated technologies in safety
The most advanced cruise control system, Active Distance Assist DISTRONIC, is now able to reduce speed ahead of bends, junctions, roundabouts or toll booths, and then increase it.
Also, if a route has been selected using the navigation system, the S-Class also responds accordingly: if the car is in the slow lane, it decelerates when approaching the desired motorway exit.
The reduction in speed varies in degrees, depending on the selected transmission mode _ Eco, Comfort or Sport. In Eco mode, the cornering speed is configured to harmonize with the Active Steer Assist. This means that automated driving for longer periods is also a reality on country roads. On highways, the Active Distance Control DISTRONIC controls the distance from the vehicle ahead within a speed range from 0 to 210 kilometers per hour while keeping the car on track.
The Active Lane Changing Assist is an automated lane-changing technology helping a driver easily shift lanes.
When a driver wishes to change lanes at 80 to 180 kilometers per hour, the Active Lane Changing Assist activates. The system then checks whether the desired lane is clear in front of, alongside and behind the vehicle.
It also calculates the speeds of the surrounding vehicles if any. In the absence of other vehicles, the driver is supported in changing lanes.
The 2018 Mercedes-Benz S-Class also recognizes various traffic signs.
The Active Speed Limit and Traffic Sign Assist recognize sign gantries and road works signs as well as speed limits on the roads. Registered information is then applied in the navigation system.
Traffic information is also adopted to the Active Distance Assist DISTRONIC, adjusting the vehicle's speed automatically. A Mercedes-Benz official said the speed can be adapted in anticipatory mode on the basis of map data in certain cases.
He also said that on roads without speed limits, such as certain stretches on German highways, the recommended speed, in this case 130 kilometers per hour is adopted as the set speed, but the set speed wasn't activated on the German autobahn during the test drive.
It allows not only the permitted maximum speed but also any restrictions on overtaking for the current route section to be displayed on the navigation system. The warning also appears in the instrument cluster as well as on the heads-up display.
The Evasive Steering Assist is another critical safety system that can support the driver in taking evasive action when pedestrians or other vehicles are detected in the danger zone in front of the vehicle and the driver initiates such action.
The system then applies additional steering torque in the direction in which the driver is performing an evasive maneuver. This helps the driver to avoid obstacles in a controlled manner and to stabilize the vehicle on its evasive course.
When a trailer suddenly jumped into the vehicle's lane during the test drive, the vehicle changed its steering torque to easily avoid a possible collision.
Following the E-Class models, the Active and Remote Parking Assist is also in the new S-Class sedans. When entering or leaving parallel or end-on parking spaces, it maneuvers the vehicle into the selected parking space and out automatically.
The assist system is also controlled by a smartphone when a driver wants the vehicle to get in or out of parking spaces.
The vehicle can be maneuvered into parallel and end-on parking spaces in both forward and reverse. In narrow passageways, following confirmation by the driver, the vehicle is able to fold in the exterior mirrors so that it can approach the detected obstacle more closely.
Introducing a fully autonomous car
A Mercedes-Benz Korea official said the German automaker's local affiliate here has yet to decide which S-Class models to introduce on the Korean market.
Also, different related traffic laws may mean a large portion of automated driving technologies above are expected to be removed from the models introduced here in September.
"Korea's traffic environment is different from Germany. The company is closely discussing related issues with the authorities," said a Mercedes-Benz official.
Industry insiders rebutted that it will take nearly 10 years to see fully autonomous cars on the streets considering the complex road environments in metropolitan cities like Seoul.
"I believe self-driving technology will be introduced within five years if only considering highways," Hyundai Motor Namyang R&D Center engineer Kim Jin-hak said.
"Without pedestrians as well as other possible objects, driving on the highway is comparably simple. I believe related technologies are almost there. When it comes to in-city self-driving technology, there are many steps for us to go through. Not only global top carmakers like Hyundai but also IT firms including Google are developing the appropriate technologies."