An Aussie test bed
AUSTRALIA will play a role in the delivery of the next generation of self-driving cars, Mercedes-Benz has confirmed.
Engineers from MercedesBenz’s test and validation department will fly to Melbourne in March. Their mission: to install datagathering equipment and software in a new E-Class sedan.
This car will be used in normal traffic by MercedesBenz Australia employees but the information it collects will be passed back to MercedesBenz’s new “Bertha” automated driving testing facility.
It takes its name from Bertha Benz, the wife of car inventor Karl. She famously borrowed her husband’s primitive machine in 1888 without asking — and, with her two sons along for the ride, drove it more than 100km. It was the world’s first long-distance drive.
So Bertha was a natural nickname for the place Mercedes-Benz aims to continue making automotive history. It stuck, and now appears on the plans of a big new €250 million-plus test and technology centre under construction in southwest Germany near Immendingen, population 6000.
Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, bought the 500ha site from the German Government this year. Since 1958 the German Army had used it for testing tanks. Now it’s a massive construction site, with earthmoving equipment reshaping the landscape to suit MercedesBenz’s grand design.
The first part of the new facility to become operational, in 2017, will be Bertha, the area earmarked for research and development work on automated driving.
It will become the workplace of engineers like Jochen Haab, Mercedes-Benz testing and validation manager.
He’s also the man who will lead the expedition to Australia next year.
Haab says his small team will fit the local E-Class with datacapture devices and developmental software destined for an updated version of the S-Class limousine.
“We will do road testing in Australia to gather data and to find out if there are any hot spots in Australia, any topics we are not aware of,” Haab says.
The idea is to discover whether our roads and driving environment can cause unforeseen problems for the sophisticated sensor-based driver-aid and safety gear.
“We’ll have one car assigned from (European) spring on, with measuring devices, based in Melbourne,” Haab says. It’s possible the car will discover conditions in Australia where its detects a hazard that isn’t really there, and reacts in a dangerous way.
“We’ll be looking if we have any false-positive warnings. We hope we don’t find any falsepositive braking …”
Data from the car will also contribute to the development of future software or to improve the current set-ups, Haab says.
Bertha in Germany is the womb-secure base where the new automated driving technologies of the future will be born. What Haab calls “young software” can’t be safely allowed to play in the street, so Mercedes-Benz will wait until its ideas are grown-up before letting them outside the high fences going up around Immendingen.
“Young software” at work: Mercedes proving ground in Germany; left, engineer Jochen Haab