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Mercedes-Benz tests safety tech on Aussie roads

Aus-trial-ia: A Mercedes-Benz E-Class test mule will be making its way around Australian roads to collect data relating to autonomous and safety technology development.

Safety system development by Mercedes Aus and German R&D team begins on local roads

Mercedes-Benz logo21 Mar 2017

By ROBBIE WALLIS

MERCEDES-BENZ will enlist its Australian arm to continue development of its autonomous driving technologies, deploying a nondescript new-generation E-Class onto Australian roads to gather data for the car-maker’s German research and development (R&D) team.

The E-Class has been fitted with extra equipment to collate data relating to local roads, signage, satellite navigation and traffic behaviours, which will then be used by a team of R&D experts that have flown out from their headquarters in Sindlefingen, Germany.

Headed by Mercedes-Benz manager of validation and communication for active safety and assistance systems Jochen Haab, the team’s data collection will be used in the development of future Benz safety systems which will underpin its self-driving goals.

Mr Haab said that Australia was an ideal market to conduct right-hand drive autonomous and safety testing.

“This opportunity allows us to further test in a new right-hand-drive market with good roads, signage, and varying conditions within close proximity of urban areas,” he said.

“For example, you can be in a congested traffic situation in the city, and then 30 minutes later be in a rural-type environment with varying conditions.

“In conjunction with our colleagues in Australia we will work towards a close collaboration, regardless of the distance between Germany and Australia.”

Mr Haab, who has been with Mercedes-Benz for the development of some of its most important assistance and safety technologies, said the company is a taking a slow and steady approach to autonomous car development.

Speaking to GoAuto last year, Mr Haab said that current Mercedes vehicles were capable of reaching a high level of autonomy, but there are still too many “what ifs” that come with sharing the road with other vehicles.

“The last couple of years, since we introduced Distronic steering assist in the generation three cars that we sell today, people often come out and say, ‘Hey, why don’t you do more? You could do more – why don’t you? Why do you want to take those small steps?’,” he said.

“We say that is the safe way to do it – one step at a time. Then, when are confident, we spread it out across the range and then take the next step. That’s what we do.”

Current-generation Mercedes vehicles have also been undergoing partial-autonomous testing on American roads, and have so far covered over two billion kilometres without incident.

When asked to define an “incident”, Mr Haab said that there had been no court cases filed against the company, but added: “But that does not mean we did not have any accidents. Accidents are inevitable, and ‘Vision Zero’ is a vision, but we have to get close.” Mercedes-Benz Australia Pacific CEO and managing director Horst von Sanden said the testing would not only help the development of technologies for the brand but also of getting said technologies implemented into Australian Mercedes vehicles more quickly.

Mercedes has said that the testing is a pilot project, and has no finalised end date or expected distance coverage.

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