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Mercedes-Benz automated test driver setup – Click above for high-res image gallery

Working on autonomous vehicle systems is all the rage lately, and Mercedes-Benz is no exception. Most of the work has been going within research groups and as part of competitions like the DARPA Urban Challenge. Mercedes-Benz has moved its automated driving work over to driver-assistance test groups. It's using the automation technology to evaluate crash avoidance systems without putting test drivers and engineers at risk.

By using its autopilot systems, the test maneuvers can be reproduced much more consistently. This isn't the first time that such systems have been employed in testing. Chrysler built an Automated Durability Road (ADR) at its Chelsea Proving Ground in the mid-1990s. The ADR used robotic drivers for accelerated durability testing over extremely difficult surfaces.

In both cases, the automakers can do far more extreme testing than would be possible with human drivers. Among the things Mercedes will be testing for is unintentional airbag deployments when driving over curbs, and detection of high-speed merging traffic or sudden braking.

  • "Automated Driving" - Testing in Sindelfingen.
  • "Automated Driving" - Robots control acceleration, brake and steering in test vehicle.
  • "Automated Driving" - Test engineers at control station.
  • "Automated Driving" - GPS antenna sends the position data to the control station.
  • "Automated Driving" - Control display at control center.
  • "Automated Driving" - Robots control acceleration, brake and steering in test vehicle.
  • "Automated Driving" - Near-misses at road junctions.
  • "Automated Driving" - Near-misses.
  • "Automated Driving" - Cutting in suddenly and braking.

[Source: Mercedes-Benz]
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Autopilots at Mercedes-Benz

"Automated driving" - new proving method for state-of-the-art safety systems

May 11, 2010 - Stuttgart

With an eye on future generations of assistance systems, Mercedes-Benz is the first vehicle maker worldwide to introduce an innovative proving method into its test driving portfolio - safety-critical driving manoeuvres that cannot be precisely reproduced by people are now being handled by autopilot on closed test tracks. "Automated driving" supports the development, testing and validation of assistance systems and other safety features. Testing at the limit can now be carried out without danger and health risks to development engineers, delivering clear benefits to Mercedes-Benz customers - because the tests are carried out with the highest degree of precision, future assistance systems can be developed and validated to Mercedes-Benz's exacting quality standards despite increasing levels of complexity.

For years, Mercedes-Benz has been setting benchmarks in the development of new technologies for the continuous improvement of active and passive safety in automobiles. Innovations in passive safety such as the rigid-form passenger cell, crumple zone, airbag and three-point safety belt, plus active safety like ABS, ESP® and braking assistant all trace back to Mercedes-Benz. They have made a demonstrable contribution to improving road safety and to reducing significantly the number of injuries and deaths among road users.

The current status of active safety technology is defined by intelligent assistance systems that turn the vehicle into a "thinking partner" - one that can see and feel, and that can react and function reflexively in the event of danger. Systems like the blind spot assistant, ATTENTION ASSIST and the night view assistant are focused specifically on accident problem areas like changing lane, fatigue or poor night time visibility.

"With future assistance systems, we will be able to address even more complex traffic situations and therefore to ease the dangers of further accident hot spots - like intersections," says Prof. Bharat Balasubramanian, Head of Product Innovations & Process Technologies at Corporate Research and Advanced Engineering Daimler AG. "The new automated driving test methods help us to fulfil the ex-tremely high quality and operational safety demands placed on our safety systems even more efficiently."

Autopilots ensure greater precision and relieve development engineers

In addition to established methods, Mercedes-Benz will in future fulfil requirements for reliable functionality and operational safety in future assistance systems through the "automated driving" of test manoeuvres on dedicated proving grounds. Prototypes used for this purpose are series production vehicles equipped with "robots" for steering, acceleration and braking. An on-board computer controls the autopilot so that a pre-programmed course is followed exactly - even if several vehicles are involved in one manoeuvre.

Test engineers in the control centre monitor all events and can stop the vehicles at any time. In parallel, the vehicles perform self checks and brake automatically if they register discrepancies. Thus, the test configuration is safe yet flexible. All Mercedes-Benz models can be equipped with the technical equipment for "automated driving". Moreover, a variety of different safety systems and equipment can be tested.

Using "automated driving", engineers analyse safety innovations under real-life conditions in the vehicle, addressing two critical challenges:

* Reproducibility. In order to calibrate the systems exactly, the same tests must be varied and repeated extensively. In so doing, all parameters like vehicle distances, speeds and steering radii must be exactly to specifications and always precisely maintained in order to guarantee comparability.
* Safety. Because the systems are intended to kick in only in critical situations, such scenarios must be induced during testing. The manoeuvres demand precision timing and cannot be permitted to put anyone in danger.

Both cases place human beings at their limits - in terms of their ability to react and the issue of reproducibility. However, for complex electronic systems and for assistance systems in particular, fully comprehensive functional validation must be carried out in a manner that is as close to reality as possible, thus making this kind of test driving indispensible.

The precise repeatability of the test methodology enables test vehicles to maintain exactly the pre-determined speed and course and to brake very precisely. For example, if a vehicle drives a pre-planned course several times, the tracks of all the runs vary from one another by less than two centimetres. Should the vehicle be brought to a complete halt at a particular location, the end points of all braking manoeuvres are within a radius of three centimetres.

Alongside the proving of assistance systems, "automated driving" will also be used in extreme tests in future. These put the vehicle under loads that are well in excess of those reached under normal use in traffic. The intention is to ascertain, for instance, that airbags are not activated unintentionally should the car be driven heavily over a ramp or against a kerb. Test drives that involve a high degree of physical stress for the driver can thus be avoided.

State-of-the-art test methods for the highest safety demands

In their development work, Mercedes-Benz engineers use the results from the company's in-house accident research, which delivers important findings. A variety of networked validation methods guarantee that the systems function reliably at the critical moment. Company philosophy insists that validation must go considerably farther than prescribed by regulatory standards. When it comes to passive safety, the internal company crash test requirements go well beyond meeting standard crash test requirements. The combination of computer simulations and real-life crash tests ensures passive safety to Mercedes-Benz standards.

Mercedes-Benz also makes use of state-of-the-art, networked test methods when it comes to active safety. Drive simulator tests combined with simulation procedures deliver a faster and more precise development process and complement test drives under real-life conditions.

"In Sindelfingen, we are currently building a new drive simulator. The state-of-the art technology of this equipment will make the future development of new safety systems even faster and more precise," confirms Balasubramanian.

Automated driving as the basis of future innovations

Mercedes-Benz is the only vehicle maker in the world to use "automated driving" as an additional element in the testing process. It will be used on dedicated proving grounds in tests that would be virtually impossible to reproduce manually, like merging at different speeds and distances; high-risk tests where, for example, a vehicle brakes heavily in front of another that swerves at the last minute; and safety-critical tests whereby, at an intersection, one vehicle crosses just in front of or behind the path of a second vehicle.

With "automated driving", Mercedes-Benz has developed a new, unique testing method for safety systems. It is yet further proof of the innovative power of Mercedes-Benz. The new test method guarantees the fast and efficient development of assistance systems to the highest levels of quality and reliability and also offers maximum safety at work for employees.

Bharat Balasubramanian sums up: "In order to be able to set trends in the field of safety in future, too, our test procedures must be able to keep pace with the wealth of ideas generated by our engineers. With automated driving, we feel we are well equipped for the development of the next generation of assistance systems."

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      Pffft. Toyota is way ahead of everyone else. They have been testing automatic acceleration devices on their cars for years!

      Toyota unintended acceleration jokes just aren't funny anymore.
      • 5 Years Ago
      SimpleCar is going to be pissed.
        • 5 Years Ago
        No kidding, look at the size of that nav screen!
        • 5 Years Ago
        Doug, ask yourself who this is being marketed to. If you really hate to drive then why bother owning a vehicle? Get a taxi (or limo) to do your rare bidding, have everything shipped to you, and never leave your home. Its all possible. So, the question is what kind of car enthusiast is going to buy into a car they are not going to drive?

        And those rich enough to be willing to pay for someone or something else to drive us can probably afford it already.
      • 5 Years Ago
      give me a break...
      • 5 Years Ago
      If you can't sit behind the wheel, why is there one?
      • 5 Years Ago
      Why should cars drive themselves?!

      To Mercedes and any other manufacturer on this path:

      No, thank you! I like luxuries like heated seats and steering wheel controls for audio. I even enjoy auto headlights and auto windshield wipers. Cruise control is as far as I want to go with self-driving autos, though. It's bad enough that fewer and fewer vehicles are available with manual transmissions. Start dumbing cars down, please. If a driver can't determine if they are in their lane, following too closely, or braking too late, they shouldn't be on the road. These smart cars are a stupid idea. It grooms under-prepared drivers.

      To me, simple vehicles are surprisingly more gratifying to drive. It's part of the reason I prefer trucks to cars. They haven't yet gotten as...stupid.
        • 5 Years Ago
        @ Doug

        "To me, simple vehicles are surprisingly more gratifying to drive."

        You, sir, certainly have a good head on your shoulders. Thanks for being honest. +1.
        • 5 Years Ago

        Your arguments for automated driving are not strong ones, to me. With the exception of the disabled person, these are all choices. A drunk should not have the choice to get behind the wheel. The same goes for a person leaving a doctor's office after a disabling procedure. And, lastly, a person who's intent on getting to their destination straight-through already has options like planes, trains or buses. They could (should) make the trip itself part of the vacation.

        Your statement that cars are not for fun is true. Transportation is the purpose. Still, if (when) the computers fail, I'd be much happier if I knew the person at the helm is able to operate the tonnage hurtling along with other traffic. Just last week on the radio, I heard 9-1-1 audio of a dumb driver whose car locked her in when the battery died. Toyota's accelerator issues were tech problems. Crashes could have been avoided with skilled drivers shifting into neutral...but I'm convinced they didn't know better. (I submit that some possibly didn't have time.)

        Ultimately, cars should not be so smart that drivers can "set it and forget". It WILL result in dumb drivers. It will be no different than the way that calculators make it easy for people to shrug off math skills.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I have no doubt that the self-navigating car is on the way. Sadly, I also have no doubt that there's a market for it. My point is that I don't want it.

        When I got my license, there was no greater feeling than to know that I was able to drive - I'd been given a great privilege. I was able to shuttle myself to and from places I wanted to go. Now, in the work world where almost everyone has a boss, it's nice to be behind the wheel where I'm the boss. I make the decisions, good or bad. I don't want a vehicle that controls everything from speed to traction to climate.

        Speaking of... Traction control and anti-lock brakes enhance the driver's abilities. The driver is still responsible for pushing the respective pedals with appropriate pressure. The car above removes the driver from the equation. Yes, it can provide consitent, repeatable performances. It still remains that if (when) the computer(s) fail, the 'driver' will need to intervene and control the vehicle.

        I have no doubt that the boring self-navigating car is on the way. Sadly, I also have no doubt that there's a market for it. My point is that I don't want it.

        The thought of an automated road system brings out a different soapbox. Such a system will require a MAJOR undertaking of the NHTSA (or whichever agencies will be responsible). I, for one, do not want tax-payer money to pay for this unless we all use it. Let the lazy commuters to whom this vehicle appeals pay for the system. Further, I don't want a government agency to determine the settings for that highway. I'm sure the "greenies" will want to control not just how fast you drive, but how often you drive.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Another question, will the production model carry that emergency stop button?
        • 5 Years Ago
        I see certain aspects where this systems could be beneficial, not necessarily in city driving, but for highway driving this could be very beneficial especially if the car communicated with each other. Vehicles would be able to drive much closer together, traffic could move at a much higher speed, and traffic would become lower and when traffic does occur, cars communicating with each other would be much safer and faster as all the vehicles could begin motion at the same time as opposed to a stop and go chain reaction style of driving that human drivers use (also lowering emissions and wear and tear on cars).

        Additionally it would be much safer for highway driving with many drivers not giving their full attention to the road, sleepiness, dealing with children in the back seats, etc. For such a system to be implemented though one would still have to deal with the issue of non-automated cars on the road - special lanes for automated cars?
        • 5 Years Ago
        @ Doug. Thank you and well said.

        @ Justin. For the people who are under the influence of alcohol, or for the handicap, or for a patient coming back from surgery we already have taxis. If there is one thing that disturbs me about automation is that it removes humans from the process. In a way, it takes jobs away from people.

        I don't want to sound like a crazy person, but we live in a world where the population is ever-increasing, but we keep looking for more ways of giving jobs to robots. That simply makes no sense to me.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I think it would be a pretty nice luxury if the car could autonomously take control and stop in the event of an emergency situation.... or even just a glaring mistake.

        The fact is that it won't take long before such systems can out drive even those of you who consider themselves expert drivers.

        But even barring that... your elderly aunt or somebodies teenager who has only been licensed to drive for a week are no where near expert (probably).

        There is no question these systems will be coming.
        And also no question they will be beneficial and save lives, just like anti-lock brakes, and stability control, and traction control already do.
      • 5 Years Ago
      This is not original to me, Jeremy Clarkson said it first, but he's so right I have to repeat it: To all the pro-"driveless" car people out there, here's a serious question: Since a 747 can take off, fly and then land completely by itself using today's technology, would you ride in a plane with no pilot?

        • 5 Years Ago
        Well, this is probably not original, but I would reply:

        I feel a lot more comfortable with a computer controlling the airplane than a drunk pilot.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Okay, put all these things inside the dashboard or wherever, and install an auto-pilot button. This will be nice for me, sometime ;)
      • 5 Years Ago
      I would love to know how insurance would work on this. I mean technically, you weren't driving. We all know how insurance companies hate drivers. It like you pay them every month for years with no wrecks and then one day you have a fender bender, and its like they slap you on the hand and say "Bad driver! Now we'll pay, however, we're going up on your rates." Its like what the heck was I paying you for?! I was paying you in case stuff like THIS would happen. So now that its happened, and you have to pay, after i've been paying for years, your gonna go up on my rates? Insurance is like pissing money in the wind.
      • 5 Years Ago
      So after cars become automated, everyone will have to cut their legs off because all of the control hardware is going to be in the foot wells. I'll keep my non-automated car and my legs, thank you very much...
        • 5 Years Ago
        Yes, it was sarcasm...I think automated cars are pretty cool. I do think that with ETC, along with steer and brake-by-wire, a lot of the actuators can actually be removed and the systems will get a ton smaller.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Well, I don't mind this at all. I can think of a very good reason to automate driving. That is commuting to and from work. It be great to be able to get an extra hour of sleep in during my commute to work, or to read a book even, watch a movie, or play a video game. I'm sure it would be a scary sight to see a "driver" fast asleep with his tongue hanging out in your rear view mirror. Heck, people do these things now in u-drive cars. Hehehe...

      Imagine elliminating traffic lights and traffic on merge lanes because a computer could "perfectly" time your crossing/merge. You could eliminate a considerable amount of commute time just from that.

      Sure there are buses, but that 's not a viable option for everyone. Would you rather be having a "spirited" driving experience stuck in traffic every morning and afternoon for the next 30 years of your life, or would you rather be doing something else? Well, I think if you were an honest driving enthusiast, you'd pick the latter.

      • 5 Years Ago
      If you don't want to drive, take the bus.
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