Autonomous driving through Silicon Valley: Mercedes-Benz receives licence from the US federal state of California
German cars learning US traffic regulations
On 16 September 2014 the US federal state of California introduced a legal requirement for an official licence for testing vehicles in autonomous driving mode on public roads. On “Senate Bill No. 1298” taking effect, Mercedes-Benz received a corresponding licence permitting it to test vehicles in autonomous driving mode in daily traffic on California’s roads. For Mercedes-Benz, which has been resident in Silicon Valley for almost 20 years now, this represents a further expansion of the company’s extensive research activities in the USA.
“With the approval from the US federal state of California we can now take autonomous driving to a new level in the USA,” emphasizes Prof Thomas Weber, member of the board of management of Daimler AG responsible for Group Research and Mercedes-Benz Cars Development. “Through our new research activities we aim to promote the topic specifically in the USA, as the traffic system in the USA differs from the system in Germany in numerous aspects. The knowledge that Mercedes-Benz gains will help to achieve significant strides in the further technological development of autonomous driving,” notes Thomas Weber.
The differences are vast: While motoring in Germany commonly takes place on narrow roads, the roads in the USA are frequently wider and may have more than six or even eight lanes. Traffic lights are installed on the opposite side of the road, there are numerous scenarios for merging onto roads and at a so-called 4-way stop the first to reach the junction is allowed to go first.
“These are all situations which do not exist in this form in Germany,” explains Axel Gern, head of Autonomous Driving at Mercedes-Benz Research and Development North America, Inc. (MBRDNA). “So we need to teach our research vehicles these situations here in the USA.”
In future, these vehicles will be tested on the road almost every day. As in the test drives in Germany, these research vehicles from Mercedes-Benz in the USA are also current models belonging to the S- and E-Class.
The autonomous test drives are carried out by specially trained test drivers, as safety for all road users is not only required by the strict standards of the “Department of Motor Vehicles” (DMV) in California, but is also the overriding priority at Mercedes-Benz. The test vehicles are specially equipped to this end: the driver must recognise clearly when the car is in autonomous driving mode and must be able to override this mode at any time; in addition, the car must be capable of stopping autonomously at any time.
“In Germany, we demonstrated in the Bertha-Benz drive back in August 2013 that autonomous driving is technically possible in complex urban and rural traffic,” observes Thomas Weber. “With the test drives in California we are now broadening the horizon for our research vehicles by additionally teaching them American traffic regulations.”
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