8 April 2020
8 April 2020
Manoeuvring your car into a tight parking space is one of the more annoying tasks in everyday traffic. Not so for drivers of Mercedes-Benz vehicles that are equipped with Active Parking Assist Parktronic. This extraordinary technology makes every day driving significantly easier, and – like many other assistance systems – it is a precursor to fully automated driving.
Other supportive assistance features from Mercedes include 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, their functions are extremely important: not only do they support the driver, they can also improve passenger safety.
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 are almost ready for use in daily life. Dr Dieter Zetsche, Mercedes-Benz’ former CEO, 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. “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,” he says.
One of the benefits promised by the concept of automated driving is that it will give the driver back the time usually spent navigating traffic. In some situations, this technology will be particularly advantageous – like for long drives on the motorway. For the Mercedes-Benz AG, this is a big step because it shows how much the company trusts this technology.
How radars, maps and algorithms support autonomous driving
The way to these developments has been paved by several basic technologies.
Ultrasonic and radar sensors continuously scan the area, supported by cameras that use algorithms to both map the driving environment and interpret the images. Live HD maps place the vehicle within the environment, with real-time updates via cloud connection.
All these technologies 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 in cities with heavy traffic as the vehicle must not only differentiate all the various obstacles on the streets, but also identify them. Children on the sidewalk, 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 if not better than those of any person driving on the road.
Benefits for future drivers
Even the simplest human processes must be taught to a computer, and the exact way to do this can be complicated. The city centre is thus a particularly complex challenge, as we addressed in the first part of the series. 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 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, Daimler Truck AG is focusing on use of the system along defined routes on some US highways between logistics junctions. The ultimate aim is to manufacture this technology in a 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.
This article was originally written and published for Daimler AG. Information provided and images may include overseas models and features not available in Australia.
By Hendrik Lakeberg