Don’t you want to just sit back while the steering wheel moves by itself as the car is autonomously driven through motorways? You will soon get that chance. While the next-generation E class has only been seen being tested, Daimler has announced that it will go on sale sometime around March 2016.
The technology used on the new E-class demonstrates how advanced automated driving systems have gone since 1998 when the Mercedes S class first got cruise control that adjusts the car’s speed to follow the car in front.
Daimler's head of development Thomas Weber said that innovations in this field are “coming thick and fast.” Weber added that people can’t expect being able to sleep in the car while driving but he thinks that autonomous driving will be a real thing very soon.
Mercedes-Benz is hoping that by offering self-driving systems, it will get an edge over competitors BMW and Audi. Daimler, which is currently third in luxury car sales, aims to take the top spot in the segment by 2020. It also tests the boundaries of what is permitted under existing regulations.
In most places, the driver is required to be in a position to control the vehicle at all times. Mercedes's mainstay luxury sedan is the E class, which rivals the BMW 5 series, Audi A6 and Lexus GS. Daimler has been offering more sophisticated options than those available in the flagship S class, indicating how high it has raised the stakes in its ambition to be at the top.
Notably, Audi has sent a driverless RS7 at racing speeds around a track. Last week, the E class was sent on a drive on freeways and country roads in southern Germany near where this model is assembled. It stayed in the middle of the lane with the use of the sensors and cameras in the car. It was able to navigate around wide bends in the road and it made automatic adjustments to its speed as it followed street signs.
There were times when the system was confused by tree shadows and temporary signs at construction sites but it was able to get through dark tunnels and it reached a maximum speed of 130 kilometers (80 miles) per hour.
Weber said that initially, he was anxious but later on, it became relaxing and comforting. Weber also said that sharper turns are technically possible but they’re just not a part of its proven abilities yet. If the car determines that the driver’s hands are off the steering wheel, a warning light is switched on by the steering aid system. It then beeps and turns itself off, compelling the driver to take the wheel again.
It’s sufficiently interactive so that the driver can’t zone out. Wolfgang Bernhart, an automotive expert at Roland Berger Strategy Consultants, said that this technology is progressing very quickly and the laws of the road just can’t keep up. Bernhart also said that eventually, the legal framework will permit customers to let go of the wheel to search news or check emails. He said that if laws aren’t put in place to allow this, it will be “a hard sell.”