At the Frankfurt Motor Show (Sep 10-22) onlookers were told by several auto giants that the birth of fully autonomous cars was going to be soon. A mere 7 years in fact. What better to prove this theory than an announcement that the Mercedes Benz self-driving car had actually completed its first ever cross country trip without any help from a driver at all.

Out On The Open Road

Mercedes Benz S500 Intelligent Drive drove through Germany from Mannheim to Pforzheim, which is approximately 100km. During the drive the autonomous car negotiated roundabouts traffic lights and jams and pedestrians comfortably on its trip. The success of this test compared to other manufacturer’s autonomous tests is all the more impressive due to the fact that the self-driving car negotiated its way through roads that were open to the public. Mercedes was able to get a clear picture of how the car would cope in the real world. Other tests that have been completed in the past have been in controlled environments on closed roads.

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Futuristic Technology?

Perhaps the most surprising nugget of knowledge is the fact that Mercedes say the technology used in the S500 Intelligent Drive is not a far cry from the technology seen in the current S-Class.

Partial self-driving technology is already out there with the likes of lane control etc. however drivers are still required to have control of the car. Hands must be left on the wheel at all times or full control of the car is returned to the driver. In the future, the driver won’t have to pay attention at all but be available in case of emergencies. So you can read behind the wheel but you won’t be able to nod off. According to Mercedes, Nissan and other companies, this technology should be available in 2020.

In fact, the Mercedes Benz self-driving car is the closest anyone has actually got to the dream of autonomous cars. Mercedes say they could have released the finished product at the end of next year but the question of whether the technology could cover all eventualities and prevent accidents stopped them short.

Then there is the future of self-driving cars; Google wizards have been focusing on producing their own self-driving vehicles with a view to using them in a robo-taxi service. These cars will need no driver at all and be fully autonomous. What will the roads look like with driver-less cars?

[Image via The Green Car Website]