DETROIT -- Daimler's new r&d boss, Ola Kaellenius, says the updated Mercedes-Benz S class coming this summer will be the first production car that links navigation with semiautonomous sensor data.
That advance will be seen in how the S class will handle curves when driving autonomously, said Kaellenius, who succeeded Daimler's long-serving r&d chief, Thomas Weber, in January.
Kaellenius, 47, spoke at the auto show here with Automotive News Europe Associate Publisher and Editor Luca Ciferri.
Q: Will we see a midcycle face-lift of the S class this summer and will new autonomous driving features be added to Mercedes' flagship?
A: We're coming with more new features on the next S class. For example, I think this is the first time any production car links the map to the sensor data in an intelligent way for an application that you can actually buy.
Could you explain?
Let me give you one example: Take a curvy highway somewhere in the U.S. where the speed limit is 55 mph. This highway might have some corners that are so tight that it wouldn't be very comfortable to go through them at 55 mph. Maybe you should go through at 50 mph or at 45 mph. As a driver, you would just slow down. Most assistance systems up to this point, however, can't do that. That's why we have linked the sensors to the map material. The map knows that you're getting to this corner so it automatically slows the car to the appropriate speed to take the corner and then accelerates to the set speed once you are through the curves.
How good is current semiautono-mous technology at handling curves?
One of the challenges with semi-automated drive is radius as a course and exactness. Clearly you don't want to be a meter off and end up with half of your car on the other side of the road. The narrower the corner, the more difficult this is. Our current level of our driver assistance systems, especially at high speeds, could do 80 percent of all autobahns in Germany and maybe 10 percent to 20 percent of the smaller roads. The new system, where we have worked up even sharper and more exact cornering ability and further developed our sensing technology, can now do approximately 80 percent of the smaller highways in Germany as well.
Do you have another example?
Let's take a crossing with a 90-degree turn off the highway. When you turn on your indicator it actually slows the car all the way down and then you take the corner.
Is that using the standard definition maps from Here?
Yes, using the standard maps we have now. Of course, when we get to Level 4 and Level 5 autonomous driving where it's fully autonomous and the car drives like a railroad car, we need high-definition 3-D maps. That is one of the reasons why we invested in Here to achieve vertical integration in this area. [Daimler, BMW and Audi acquired Here from Nokia in 2015.]
How important is autonomous driving to Mercedes?
We feel that autono-mous drive technology is crucially important. It's really one of those technologies that will change driving the way we know it. To have access to a platform like Here and to develop the mapping material and other use cases around is something that we think is an absolute must. Even on Level 2 semiautomated driving, where the driver is still responsible, you can see that more and more technology building blocks become available on the way to full Level 4 and Level 5 autonomous driving. As soon as we have these building blocks we're ready to put them into serious production right away. That's our strategy.
How long could I drive the S class without touching the steering wheel?
That depends on the circumstances. We programmed it to go up to a minute, but you will get an audible warning after 30 seconds. In the latest versions, we have worked hard to eliminate misuse cases. As it is with all technologies, some people are creative in figuring out if there is a back door. It is our goal to make sure that does not happen and that the technology is used properly.
The S class is at Level 2 autonomy. When do you expect to have a Level 3 on the market?
Level 3 will be on the market at the end of this decade. I think we'll see a lot of movement between 2020 and 2025 because a lot of the technology you need [such as the 3-D maps] to get to Level 4 and 5 is being worked on now. We will have a lot of stuff mapped by the end of the decade so that's a good time frame. Concerning the power of the sensors and sensor development, there's a lot of dynamic development happening there. The sensing technology is getting better and the computing power and the algorithms based on underlying AI technology are also developing fast. So, a lot of things are coming together now that will allow us to move quicker on this topic.