Tag: Self Driving Cars

Vehicle Automation – Friend or foe?

Vehicle Automation

People are lazy, there’s no avoiding that fact. Not everyone, but certainly not an insignificant number. Just the other day, I saw a youth talking to his phone, not on his phone, as if the task of tapping the actions on all 8-inches of his screen was just far too much effort for his now withered appendages. “Okay Google” this and “Siri feed my hamster” that, have we reached a point where we don’t really feel like doing anything anymore?

Volvo's Pilot Assist

Ever since the automobile had been conceived, you can bet your bottom dollar that some fellow somewhere had fantasised over the thought of sitting in a car that drives itself. Attempts were made in the 1920’s but clearly they were all feeble because only 60 years later, in the 1980’s, did the first two examples of lazy motoring come to fruition. Carnegie Mellon University’s Navlab and ALV projects in 1984 and Bundeswher University Munich ad Mercedes-Benz’s EUREKA Prometheus Project (silly name, I know) were the first vehicles worthy of the “autonomous” name with Navlab looking like a van with a giant viewfinder on its forehead and the culmination of EUREKA Promethus, a W140 S-Class, having to make do with 3 seats and a NASA control station in the back…

Clearly, we have moved on from vans and three seats, but the question remains – what on earth for? It is well documented that the vast majority of air crashes can be attributed to human error. Remove the human element and, in theory, you have a near fool-proof recipe for safe travel. I say in theory of course, because there are many variables to be considered, such as those who actually want to drive, and those who choose to drive but ignore the rules of the road. Those are just two examples, but likely to be the ones on which the boffins and scientists focus the most.

Take, for instance, adaptive cruise control – easily the most commonplace form of vehicle automation available at the moment, yet throw a Joburg taxi into the mix or one of those noobs that overtakes on the left and then cuts in front of you, and the system has a bit of a wobbly and slams on the anchors, yet these are all occurrences which we are perfectly accustomed to on South African roads. Take it a step further where we now have semi-autonomous vehicles from Volvo, Mercedes-Benz and BMW and while they amaze me each and every time I sit at the helm, add a corner, an under taker, as opposed to an over taker, and a non-attentive driver into the equation and the system panics, and switches off. Of course I’d rather have it switching itself off than attempting to rectify a situation which it is unable to, but the whole situation is still not ideal.

There is, in fact, a Vehicle Automation Standardisation Body which, in essence, governs the use and capabilities of vehicle automation around the world. They have 6 levels, used to designate the degree of vehicle automation which, interestingly, is gauged by driver involvement as opposed to hardware and amounts of technology on board a vehicle. The levels are as follows:

0    No Driving Automation   

1    Driver Assistance

2    Partial Driving Automation

3    Conditional Driving Automation

4    High Driving Automation

5    Full Driving Automation


As we stand, Tesla’s famed AutoPilot sits between SAE 2 and SAE 3, although by the end of 2017 Elon Musk is hoping that they will be allowed to implement SAE 5, but more on that later.

So, do we feel that the automotive industry is barking up the wrong proverbial tree? Well, no, I certainly don’t. Besides, even if we did, a large number of manufacturers are already quite far up that tree with Audi in particular just waiting for law and legislation to be passed, allowing the new A8 to drive itself without any human interaction whatsoever at speeds of up to 60 km/h aka SAE 3. It will, at that point, be the first production car to officially reach SAE 3 standards. Tesla AutoPilot essentially does drive “itself”, although it does require a loving tug at the wheel every now and then to remind the vehicle that you haven’t in fact jumped into the back seat to breastfeed your baby or indulge in some light carpentry. Rather cleverly, however, Tesla’s are fitted with “shadow mode” which essentially uses all of the autonomous “ready” hardware to gather information and data which can then be used to improve software before the SAE 5 vehicles are approved for road use.

To wrap it all up, then, I think that this topic needs to be approached from the angle of road safety. While the novelty of not having to drive your vehicle is great, the safety benefits and advantages far outweigh the “cool factor”. Something to take into consideration, especially when looking at vehicle automation in a South African context, is that our road users and infrastructure are not quite ready to support such advancements in vehicle technology. We face other socio-economic worries that are far more apposite in our climate than being able to crochet while on the way to work, but at least we know that the technology is there and it’s coming. We all know that cars will be able to drive themselves, but the real excitement should come from an adaption of those systems to suit our occasional road markings and haphazard drivers.

For us who also thoroughly enjoy driving, it should not be seen as a substitute but rather in addition to conventional “human being” driving, granted that the humans in question adhere to the rules of the road. That is a completely different box of frogs, however.

For now, all we can do is revel in the joys of the Nissan Leafs (Leaves?) and BMW i3s plugged into car-chargers in affluent areas!

Semi-Autonomous Driving Features in the New Mercedes-Benz S-Class

Semi-autonomous Driving In The New Mercedes-Benz S-Class

Autonomous driving is a technology which is rapidly growing in the automotive industry. On the road today, we have semi-autonomous driving vehicles which are able to accelerate, brake and steer, for short periods of time, without any human input. One doesn’t even need to turn to the upper echelon of motoring to find this sort of technology as vehicles such as the Volvo S90 and BMW 5 Series are able to tootle along all by themselves.

Even Though fully autonomous driving is still a way off for mainstream car makers, more and more vehicle manufacturers are spending increasing amounts of money and time developing technologies this field, making their cars more intelligent and less dependent on the driver. The Mercedes-Benz S-Class has always stood at the forefront of automotive technological advancements, so the updated S-Class promises to be a bit of a spaceship, due in South Africa later this year.

Mercedes-Benz claim that the updated S-Class will be able to support its driver considerably better than all systems which have been available to date, but whether this means all systems currently on the market, such as Volvo’s Pilot Assist or just Mercedes-Benz’s systems remains a mystery. Anyway, let’s take a look at the details of Mercedes Semi-Autonomous driving systems. 


Active Distance Assist DISTRONIC

This system uses the route ahead to increase or decrease speed. For example, if the vehicle detects a bend, junction, roundabout or toll both in its path, it will slow the vehicle down accordingly.

The S-Class will also use information from the driver’s navigation input. If the route informs the driver to leave a highway and the car is in the slow lane, the vehicle will automatically reduce speed for the off-ramp. This also applies to junctions.

Semi-autonomous driving

Semi-autonomous driving

Active Lane Change Assist

Hitting the Indicator stalk when driving at speeds between 80 – 180 km/h actives this system. The vehicle’s sensors use the next 10 seconds to check all the vehicle safety zones and whether or not the relevant lane is clear. It also monitors the speed of other vehicles to see that all is ok, and if so, the S-Class will change lanes.

Semi-autonomous driving

Semi-autonomous driving

Active Speed Limit Assist

The Mercedes-Benz S-Class will pick up on road signs and temporary speed limit signs such as one would find when approaching road works. It also knows recorded limits from the navigation system.

Following vehicles in a tailback

This feature is perfect for the road users in Johannesburg. The new S-Class is able to stop and then restart and follow vehicles in traffic if the stops are shorter than 30 seconds. No more on and off the brake and accelerator in stop/start traffic, then!

Active Emergency Stop Assist

One to put your mind at ease if you are an easy sleeper! If the S-Class detects no response from the driver while using Active Steering Assist, the vehicle prompts the driver to take action. If no action is taken ( because you are dreaming peacefully or in a medical emergency) the vehicle will then slowly bring itself to a stop in its current lane. Once stopped, the parking brake is engaged, Mercedes-Benz Emergency Call System is activated and the doors are unlocked.

Active Brake Assist & Evasive Steering Assist

This features aids the driver in avoiding collisions with other vehicles and pedestrians. It first starts with warning the driver if there is adequate distance to do so. If not, the vehicle will apply the brakes.

Further to this, Evasive Steering Assist will support the driver and apply extra steering torque when taking evasive action because a pedestrian is in the vehicle danger zone. The vehicle will then stabilize itself after the maneuver has taken place.

Semi-autonomous driving

Active Keep Lane Assist

Between speeds of 60 and 200 km/h, the S-Class will warn the driver via vibrations if the vehicle drifts out of its lane and can apply vehicle brakes on one side to bring the driver back into its lane. If this happens on a road with broken white lines, the vehicle will only take action if there is a chance of collision with another vehicle (for all you lazy non indicator types).

Active Blind Spot Assist

A system found on many new vehicles today and similar to that above – the Mercedes-Benz S-Class will apply brakes on one side of the vehicle to avoid an impending side collision.

Traffic Sign Assist

This system, which works along with Active Speed Limit Assist using image recognition and information from the road map in the navigation system, displays road signs on the instrument cluster.

It will bring up any overtaking restrictions for the route, such as zebra crossings, and will provide a warning if pedestrians are found in said crossing. “No entry” signs are also recognized and the vehicle will prompt you to check your direction of travel.

Semi-autonomous driving

Car-to-X Communication

This is basically talking cars! A technology first seen in the form of Volvo’s Vehicle-to-vehicle communication, if a vehicle ahead has detected a hazardous condition, this information is then relayed back to other vehicles to provide an early warning. A voice warning may also be given to the driver depending on the situation.

Developers are currently trying to get this system in use with as many vehicle manufacturers as possible, thus creating a very effective system. A car plus kit will also be available for drivers whose vehicles do not support Car-to-X so they can also benefit from this system.

Active Parking Assist

Cars that park themselves are no longer a big surprise, and this system is very similar to others. The S-Class can also apply braking automatically when parking if it has noticed a hazard or possible collision.

Remote Parking Assist

A system we first witnessed on the new BMW 5 Series, the S-Class can now be parked into spaces or even driven out of spaces when the driver is outside the vehicle. The BMW 5 Series uses the vehicle key for this, whereas the Mercedes system will be controlled using an app on a smartphone.

The major benefit of this is being able to park the vehicle in tight spaces without having the issue of the driver trying to exit the vehicle afterwards. This system also works well if the driver has been parked in. The system will allow manoeuvrability of the vehicle by up to 15 metres and will also avoid obstacles, for those who were never good at R/C cars as a child or adult.
So there you have it, another step in the right direction for autonomous driving for Mercedes-Benz. No news yet on whether these features will be standard or optional extras, but if you can afford an S-Class, chances are it won’t matter much either way.