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Mercedes-Benz extends autonomous testing in Australia

Self serve: More detailed mapping data is needed before Mercedes updated S-Class can show all of its autonomous talent.

Modified S-Class test bed sent around Aus, NZ to gather data for Benz engineers

Mercedes-Benz logo27 Jul 2017

By TIM ROBSON in ZURICH

MERCEDES-BENZ has broadened its autonomous testing footprint in Australia, sending its specially equipped E-Class test car out on a national tour to gather more mapping data.

As well, the E-Class, which is fitted with upgraded Distronic Plus componentry that has just debuted in the S-Class facelift, may also be sent to New Zealand.

Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific manager of public relations and product communications Jerry Stamoulis told journalists at the S-Class launch that more data is needed before the autonomous systems in Mercedes-Benz’s biggest sedan can be rolled out in Australia.

“There may be testing at the moment around Australia,” Mr Stamoulis admitted.

“And most likely they’re doing New Zealand as well. We’ve been doing this since March, measuring data and sending it to Germany, and Germany are tweaking it and learning from the Australian roads.”

Mercedes-Benz uses the Here map system that it co-purchased last year with Audi and BMW for $A5 billion. The company’s highly detailed mapping technology can help a car pinpoint its own location to within 20cm.

However, the rival to services such as Google Maps still needs to add to its data bank, and the broader mission for the E-Class is to gather data from Southern Hemisphere environments.

“The reason why they did do it is because of our roads,” he said. “As a right-hand-drive market, they are so good. There are different barriers, there’s different road markings... as a right hand drive market, we’ve actually got very good roads, and that’s why they wanted to test.”

Mr Stamoulis said Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific is speaking with federal and state governments about regulations pertaining to the Level Two autonomy that is built into the S-Class, and confirmed that talks are progressing well.

“We started talking to different governments back in March, and we don’t see any issues going forward,” he said. “It’s just about everyone being on the same page, and everyone is so keen to make the roads safer, to get as much technology as we can on Australian roads.

“Our German colleagues have been so relieved (that talks are progressing), and they wished every road authority around the world was like Australia.”

Mr Stamoulis was unable to confirm whether the full complement of the S-Class’s technology – which includes the ability to change speeds based on road sign technology and navigating lane changes and traffic – will be present at the car’s launch in December this year.

“We don’t know that yet,” he said. “It won’t be confirmed until launch. I guess the issue, realistically, is how quickly we can get any issues or topics resolved.

“It would be nice to have everything, but we won’t. That’s the reality. We don’t have Mercedes-Benz Connect in Australia, and we won’t have it, at least within the next 12 months.

“There’s so much in the S-Class that there will be a couple of features that might not be available locally.”

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