Mercedes-Benz started its “Intelligent World Drive” at the Frankfurt International Motor Show (IAA) in September to adapt more highly automated driving functions to national user and traffic practices. After the start in Germany, the test vehicle based on the new production S‑Class is now under test in the heavy traffic and exposed to the special national features in the Chinese megalopolis of Shanghai. The focus of the test drives in Shanghai is on assessing the driving behavior in extremely heavy traffic with its different participants, as well as on infrastructure peculiarities.
The high density of cars, two-wheelers, three-wheelers and pedestrians and the associated traffic behavior in Chinese cities pose different requirements on automated driving functions than in Europe or the US. In addition, there are road signs with Chinese characters and lane markings, which in China have different or even multiple meanings. For example, short white lines, known around the world as pedestrian crossings, can also be found on motorways. However, they don’t denote a pedestrian crossing, but the minimum distance between vehicles. The sensors must be able to recognize this and interpret it correctly. The same is true for speed limits, which can differ from one lane to another. Another challenge: Parking spaces come in many different shapes and frequently are full of obstacles that are hard to detect for sensors.
These special national features show how important it is to gather worldwide insights into real-life traffic on the road to autonomous driving and to adapt automated driving functions to the particular traffic practices and conditions. In the past seven years, Mercedes-Benz conducted about 5100 test drives around the world with 175 test mules for validations of driver assistance systems in the field alone. The performance of the driver assistance systems was assessed on some 9.5 million kilometers in Europe, the US, China, Australia and South Africa, and more than 1.2 million measurements were made especially in real-life traffic situations for their continuous advancement.
China is the largest automobile market in the world. The Mercedes-Benz Research & Development Center in Beijing has therefore been an integral and crucial component of the global R&D network of Daimler AG for more than a decade.
An important part of the activities of R&D China is to capture and process the local traffic conditions and practices for the development of automated driving functions. In this process, Mercedes-Benz cooperates in, among others, a joint research project with Tsinghua University. The Tsinghua-Daimler Research Center has been working on pioneering projects on the development of sustainable China-specific traffic solutions since 2012. These include active and passive safety systems, accident research, integrated traffic information systems, and the exploration of traffic and traffic regulations in mega-cities.
With the Intelligent World Drive, Mercedes-Benz is testing automated driving functions on five continents using a test vehicle based on the S‑Class. Over a period of five months, the sedan will face traffic situations of different complexities to gather valuable experiences on the road to autonomous driving. The first leg took place in Germany in September. This test drive focused on assessing the specific driving behavior on motorways and in tailback situations, an important component for the development of future technologies.
The second leg in the Shanghai megalopolis will be followed by test drives in Australia in November and South Africa in December. The focus in Australia will be in particular on the validation of the latest digital map data of HERE, whereas in South Africa pedestrian detection in many new situations will play a major role.
The final stop of the Intelligent World Drive will be the CES in Las Vegas in January 2018. The test drive in Greater Los Angeles and afterwards on to Las Vegas will concentrate on evaluating the driving behavior in heavy American urban traffic and in tailbacks as well as when traffic is overtaking on the right on highways.
Autonomous driving is one of the four strategic areas for the future which form an integral part of the corporate strategy of Daimler AG under the acronym CASE: networking (Connected), autonomous driving (Autonomous), flexible use (Shared & Services) and electric powertrains (Electric). The aim is to shape intuitive mobility for the customers through intelligent dovetailing of all four CASE fields.