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Full self-driving cars ‘still 40 to 50 years away’: Mercedes-Benz

Dylan Campbell

Don’t expect to see the fabled Level Five total autonomous driving anytime soon, says Mercedes engineers

Engineers developing self-driving cars at Mercedes-Benz say fully autonomous vehicles are still “40 or 50” years away.

They’re referring to the fabled SAE Level Five autonomy where a passenger can get into the vehicle with no input whatsoever – as it drives them to their destination. The race is on between engineers across manufacturers and firms around the world to develop the first vehicle that can safely accomplish this task.

But it’s a longer way off than many pundits would have you believe, said Matthias Kaiser, Senior Engineer for Automated Driving Mercedes-Benz.

Mercedes-Benz engineers believe full self-driving cars are still 40 to 50 years away

“I compare it to the Holy Grail,” Kaiser told Chasing Cars at a Mercedes-Benz safety technology demonstration in Melbourne this week.

“[Level Five full autonomy] would be the final goal but I think this will definitely need some more decades until we see Level Five cars for customers on the real streets like in a mass production vehicle. 

“The reason why is also the definition of Level Five, because Level Five means I can hop into my car in, for example, Stuttgart, Germany, and drive to Madrid in Spain, overnight, just by pressing the button. And the car doesn’t need me, it can handle every situation on its own. That means for example snow, rain, any other conditions. And of course, the car needs to do that safely … so I think this will be a couple more years.”

Mercedes-Benz demonstrated their safety tech last week in Melbourne

Kaiser said his guess would be “roughly 40 to 50 years” before autonomous technology reaches this point.

Mercedes-Benz engineers said SAE Level Three autonomy – where a car can drive itself hands-free down a motorway – was on its eventual way to Australia. It’s already legal in some jurisdictions like on the German autobahn and in California, USA, where it’s restricted to a maximum of 40mph (64km/h) and can only be used during the day. Mercedes-Benz expects the technology to be ready for up to 130km/h by the end of this decade.

There is still a long way to go for autonomy in passenger vehicles

Jochen Haab, Manager of Field Validation, Testing Technology and Communications of Driver Assistance Systems Mercedes-Benz, said there were many factors to be considered before introducing a new technology or feature to a certain market, such as Level Three autonomous driving to Australia.

“It will not be a technical issue,” Haab told Chasing Cars. “I can’t tell you if it will be three years or five years. I hope, and I think, what’s not going to be an issue is the right-hand-drive, because we have put it on the scope.”

Haab said testing of the technology is underway on Australian roads.

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