Mercedes-Benz VP Automated Driving: Cars are more complex than airplanes
Mercedes-Benz's DRIVE PILOT is the company's most advanced system for automated driving yet. Georges Massing, VP of Automated Driving and E/E Integration, explains why it is so special.
The Mercedes-Benz DRIVE PILOT lets you take both your hands off the steering wheel and your eyes off the road. During activation time the driver can legally engage in secondary activities eg, watching movies, playing games or just relaxing.
The system has been approved for sale in both Germany and the US (in the States of Nevada and California), the only SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) Level 3 system for conditionally automated driving to get the go-ahead in these regions so far.
Central to the DRIVE PILOT system is the HERE high-definition map that allows the vehicle to safely plan and navigate when conditions are met for it to take over.
HERE360 spoke to Georges Massing, VP of Automated Driving at Mercedes-Benz, about why DRIVE PILOT represents a paradigm shift for driving, how his aerospace engineering background informs his work today, and the importance of making traffic jams less tedious for everyone.
Why is a highly accurate positioning system like the HERE HD Live Map so integral to the success of Level 3 automated driving?
"For Mercedes-Benz the top priority is safety. When it comes to conditionally automated driving, redundancy is key for safe operation. We use various systems and sensors redundantly. The high-definition map acts like another sensor, similar to the camera or radar system. For example, it enhances the camera data in areas where it cannot see well, such as at night or in snowy weather.
"The map gives you a three-dimensional topography of where the vehicle is allowed to drive. It also gives you additional information that helps facilitate the navigation of the vehicle in certain areas."
Do your experiences in aerospace engineering provide any unique insights or approaches that can be applied to autonomous driving technology?
"There are a lot of similarities between those two engineering approaches — more than people might think. The redundancy of key systems is, as already mentioned, one prime example. Safety and reliability are generally important in both domains.
"The environment of the car is in some ways more complex than that of a plane. However, in the air you have one less complexity: people are not walking around up there, and you don't have bicycles or animals crossing the road, for example."
With Drive Pilot, how does the system decide which of these obstacles to prioritize?
"There is no specific thing to prioritize. There are things to avoid. Safety is our top priority. This is the main guiding principle of our driving system, and that's why we are using different sensors and systems working redundantly together. We attach great importance to the greatest possible safety with the highest level of comfort."
How close is Mercedes-Benz to realizing your vision of creating an in-vehicle eCommerce platform?
"With Mercedes me, you can enjoy a slew of different services today. You can connect your music streaming account, find a charging station or a parking spot, and there are more services planned. With higher levels of driving automation, you will be able to use videoconferencing services inside the vehicle in the future."
What are the main benefits of L3 for drivers?
"We are giving back time to customers. Just imagine if you could be relieved from the task of driving in a traffic jam. How beautiful it would be if, during this boring phase, you could just do something else and gain back some quality time.
"We also wanted to focus on highways as the first step, because people get bored and lose focus when they are driving for several hours."
What is the role of AI in moving automated driving forward?
"The more scenarios you have, the more challenging and time-consuming it becomes to program them in the conventional way. Models that are trained to do certain things, such as avoid an object in the path of the vehicle, are extremely useful. This is where AI comes in.
"Even if the vehicle encounters something it has never seen before, it has been trained to avoid it. But we deliberately avoid algorithms that change the vehicle's behavior while the vehicle is still in the automated driving function. We focus instead on so-called 'supervised learning' using previously collected data material. As a technology company, we base our actions on the applicable legal framework and ethical guidelines, right from the development of our products."
How do you navigate the complex and evolving regulatory landscape for autonomous vehicles in different countries and regions?
"The technical approval regulations for Level 3 systems are very heterogeneous worldwide — harmonization based on the present UN regulation would be very welcome here. But we cannot expect legislators to write rules on something so new or that even doesn't exist yet. That's the reason why we are in contact with various authorities around the world."
What do you say to people who claim that automated driving takes the fun out of the experience?
"Right now, DRIVE PILOT is a time saver in those dreaded traffic jam situations. And I can only invite you to try it out because you will love it as much as I do. The driver can activate the system when stuck in a traffic jam, for instance. Of course, manual driving is always possible. After all, Mercedes-Benz are great cars and really fun to drive."
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