Mercedes and Audi Reveal New Autonomous Driving Features
The race towards autonomous driving is well and truly on, with auto-makers introducing new concepts and technologies seemingly every week. In the last month two of the leading German manufacturers, Audi and Mercedes, have revealed new features that are expected to reach production vehicles within the next few years.
Mercedes have revealed plans for the new E-Class Sedan which will debut an advanced version of the car-maker’s Steering Assist technology, which is currently in use on the latest S-Class. Meanwhile, Audi took to the Consumer Electronics Show Asia in Shanghai to unveil its R8 E-Tron Piloted Driving concept vehicle, an electric sports car equipped with Audi’s autonomous driving tech.
The latest generation of Mercedes’ S-Class was the first production car that was able to steer itself and navigate certain situations without driver intervention. The vehicle is able to cope with traffic at low speeds and on roads with gentle curves, and can also prevent a lane change when another vehicle is present in the driver’s blind spot. The auto-maker has now confirmed that a more advanced version of the system will be available next year on the new 2017 E-Class model.
Thomas Weber, Daimler’s head of development, told Bloomberg, "Innovations in this area are coming thick and fast. While we don’t want to feed wrong expectations such as sleeping in the car, autonomous driving is set to become a reality much more quickly than the public thinks."
The Steering Assist technology on the new E-Class will enable the car to navigate highways and country lanes with more generous corners, and adjust the vehicle speed according to street signs. The car will also feature a pedestrian detection system whereby it can bring itself to a complete stop or steer around the obstruction, helping to bring the wheel back straight if the driver overcompensates by swerving. During testing Mercedes have proven the technology at speeds of up to 80mph, although distractions such as tree shadows and temporary construction signs can confuse the system, and the vehicle is not able to navigate very sharp bends yet – although Mercedes say it is technically possible. If the car detects that the driver has taken his or her hands off the wheel, the system will switch on a warning light, then sound an audible warning before shutting down, thereby forcing the driver to take control of the wheel.
Audi R8 E-Tron Piloted Driving
Audi chose the Consumer Electronics Show Asia in Shanghai to demonstrate the new R8 E-Tron Piloted Driving concept - an electric sports car equipped with a vast array of tech.
Image Source: Audi
The all-electrically powered high-performance car has 340 kW of power, can reach 0-100km/h in 3.9 seconds, and features a driving range of 450km. It is packed with future Audi technologies, including functions for piloted driving which Audi says are virtually production ready.
The manufacturer has already demonstrated the capabilities of piloted driving by sending an autonomous RS 7 around the Hockenheim Ring in a little over two minutes. The audacious test lap was carried out late in 2014 and passed by without a hitch as the car lapped the track in a very impressive time. Audi intends to gradually bring this technology into production vehicles, and demonstrated piloted driving at CES Asia by transporting journalists in an autonomous A7 Sportback on a 15km journey from the exhibition area in Shanghai to the Bund riverside.
The piloted driving tech on display in the R8 E-Tron concept includes an array of sensors, a new type of laser scanner, several video cameras, ultrasonic sensors and radar sensors at the front and rear. The signals from these sources are sent to the car’s central driver assistance control unit (Audi’s innovative zFAS control board) which then generates a complete image of the vehicle’s environment. The piloted driving system is then able to control steering, gear changes and brakes as necessary to negotiate its surroundings.
The technology will be gradually rolled out to production vehicles by Audi over the coming years with the next-generation A8 due in 2017 earmarked as the first car to feature some of the car-maker’s self-driving capabilities. The initial tech is expected to be able to handle slow-moving traffic and parking situations, but as the technology improves and the legal framework for autonomous vehicles develops, we can expect Audi to introduce much more sophisticated features.