Sept. 11 - Daimler has unveiled its much anticipated self-driving Mercedes Benz at the Frankfurt International car show. The luxury auto-maker is making incremental improvements to its autonomous technology and plans to have a fully-autonomous vehicle available to consumers by 2020. Rob Muir reports.
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It was a grand entrance for the Mercedes Benz S500, the vehicle Daimler hopes will lead the car industry's grand experiment in autonomous driving.
Daimlers says the car, driving with limited autonomy, performed well on a recent 100 kilometre test drive through Germany.
The car is designed to operate with and without a driver at the wheel.
Radar and other sensors tell an onboard computer where the car is and what's in its vicinity. Colour cameras mounted behind the windscreen can interpret traffic lights while another camera pointed to the rear contributes to a digital poisitoning system that tells the car where it is, and where it should go to reach its destination.
According to Daimler head of Telematic Reserach Dr Ralph Herrtwich, consumers are beginning to embrace the idea of driving autonomy.
(SOUNDBITE) DAIMLER HEAD OF TELEMATIC RESEARCH, DR. RALPH HERRTWICH, SAYING:
"We ourselves were amazed when we did some customer research on whether people like autonomous vehicles or not and the surprising result for us was that really a lot of people would like to have such a feature in their vehicle, not all the time, but in certain situations where driving is not really fun - in a traffic jam, on your daily commute to work, that's where people would like to have that feature and that's why we intend to build it for them."
But a fully autonomous car is still years away from commercial release. And before travellers in Europe can sit back and leave everything to the car, there is the issue of regulation be resolved, according to Head of Development, Thomas Weber.
(SOUNDBITE) (DAIMLER HEAD OF DEVELOPMENT, THOMAS WEBER, SAYING:
"Of course we have to discuss with the regulators around the world. Based on the current rules we cannot go autonomously and with this project, the better Benz drive, we have now started the discussion with the overall regulators. Computer power is the other question. We need a lot of computer power to do all these calculations realtime and the last obstacle is navigation data. We need as precise as possible the maps where we go autonomously and also this discussion has started."
And Daimler has rivals - Audi, Volvo, BMW and others are also pursuing driving autonomy, and a market that's increasingly in favour of a hands-off driving experience.