While some car makers, the media and Elon Musk would have you believe that autonomous cars are just around the corner, Mercedes-Benz has suggested driverless cars are still a decade away…at least.

Sleeping in the back of a Mercedes-Benz while it whisks you around town won’t happen until at least 2030, according to one of Mercedes-Benz’s leading expert on the billions being poured into autonomous vehicles.

Fully autonomous cars that allow the driver to tune out completely are at least a decade away, says the manager of active safety for Mercedes-Benz, Jochen Haab.

“That will certainly not be in the next five to 10 years,” he said when asked of the chances of driverless Mercedes-Benzes in the near future. “(Allowing the car to drive) anything, anywhere – that’s more than a decade away.”

Haab said there was an enormous amount of information and potential scenarios that needed to be trained into computer brains essential to the ongoing push towards driverless cars.

He cited specific parking scenarios in often unpredictable private carparks as one scenario that would require significant effort to ensure it was performed flawlessly every time.

He said Australia had particularly big challenges because of the size of the country and often poor quality country roads.

“The most difficult (thing to achieve with autonomous cars) is in the countryside, because that’s where you have the most ‘what-ifs’. You have deer, you have kangaroos, whatever.”

He added that “the what-ifs get more complicated” as development continues.

The move to push back the arrival of autonomous vehicles is a big retreat from a company that was once racing to unleash driverless cars, having worked on the technology for more than 30 years.

In February, BMW announced a tie-up with arch rival Mercedes-Benz to pool resources and share development costs on autonomous vehicles.

The technical partnership is planned to result in level four autonomous vehicles – which can drive themselves in specific areas or road networks, but still require a driver for some scenarios – by 2025. 

Haab also rebutted Tesla boss Elon Musk’s claims that lidar systems (radar that uses light from a laser to map its surroundings) to look a long way down the road and, often, through fixed objects, would be obsolete in future autonomous vehicles.

Contrary to Tesla’s move to not use the expensive laser radar devices, Haab says they help create a virtual three-dimensional image of what’s going on around the car.

“You have to deal with the unexpected and if you only rely on one [technology], that’s not what humans do [with their senses] and it’s not ideal,” he said, citing lidar as another way to glean information, while also acting as a redundancy technology if other systems experienced issues or failure.

Over the last couple of years once-bold claims that driverless tech was coming soon have been watered down.

Even Tesla, one of the most bolshy on spruiking its autonomous technology, has broken promises on driverless tech failed to unleash the promised driverless car. Tesla boss Elon Muslk recently said he expected to be selling fully autonomous cars by the end of 2020. However, some analysts believe those claims are partially to offset attention to big losses and a subsequent multi-billion-dollar capital raising exercise.


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About Author

Toby Hagon

From Porsches to LandCruisers, Toby Hagon loves all things cars and has been writing about them for more than 20 years. He loves the passion and people that help create one of the world's most innovative and interesting industries. As well as road testing and chasing news he more recently co-authored a book on Holden. These days he crosses the world covering the industry but still loves taking off on the Big Trip in Australia.

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