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Future models - Mercedes-Benz - E-class

Autonomous Mercedes here before 2020

Tech drive: With a rapid increase in autonomous technology, Mercedes says self-driving cars will be here before the decade is out, but regulations have to change just as quickly.

New Mercedes-Benz E-Class to take 'next step' towards self-driving cars

Mercedes-Benz logo23 Jun 2015

By DANIEL GARDNER

THE next-generation Mercedes-Benz E-Class will introduce segment-first technology that includes driverless parking, pushing the German car-maker ever closer to a fully autonomous car before 2020.

The company has developed various autonomous technologies in one-off experimental vehicles, but the new E-Class will be its greatest production model advancement yet, with technology that will allow it to park without a person aboard.

With such rapidly accelerating technology cascading down through segments, Mercedes says some other manufacturer’s predictions of a fully autonomous vehicle by 2020 is too far away.

Speaking at the unveiling of the new GLC SUV in Germany, Daimler AG board member and head of Mercedes-Benz research and development Thomas Weber told media that autonomous technology is “available today,” and that a production model was closer than five years away.

“With the E-Class we will do the next step next year,” he said. “Stay tuned in March we will definitely take the next step.

“Completely, fully autonomous, maybe sleeping in the car, that’s driverless and a long story, but that’s what the engineers believe. (The cars) will go much faster than you can do, for a longer period of time. You give responsibility to the car or the Autobahn pilot – and that’s definitely before 2020.”

Rival BMW recently announced that its flagship 7 Series sedan would offer similar self-parking tech, but by offering the system in a smaller, more affordable model, Dr Weber said Mercedes is setting a new standard.

“Our idea is that what others do in the premium class, we do in the business class, at least,” he said.

“It will, of course, be more advanced compared with the system that is available in the market now.”

But while the technology is rapidly advancing towards a feasible production model, Dr Weber highlighted how legislation would be a stumbling block, and significant changes in this area would speed up the advent of autonomous motoring.

“We hope that we can convince most of the regulators to do these upcoming next steps together with us,” he said.

“That’s one of the key questions. What we need is, as much as possible, flexible regulations set up that we can fulfill more general rules, giving us freedom to do a little bit more or less in specific situations.

“It’s also a hurdle, but so far not the biggest. There are regulations in place that you have to hold your steering wheel. These kind of basic regulations we have to change.

“The situation is completely comparable with autonomous braking systems. I believe it will be the same on the autonomous side if we can convince the regulators that we are doing this carefully. They will give us more freedom.”

Information technology giant Google recently reported some minor collisions during testing of its driverless electric car, but Dr Weber warns that hasty development of such tech by manufacturers has the potential to significantly set back autonomous car progress.

“The first big accident linked to stupid guys who push their limit a little bit too far away will hurt the whole industry,” he said.

“We believe we can manage it, because we will do nothing that could lead to a risk.”

Mercedes has not revealed any more details of the forthcoming fifth-generation E-Class but more information including driverless technology is expected in the next few weeks, ahead of its full reveal next year.

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