An Aussie test bed

Herald Sun - Cars Guide - - NEWS - JOHN CAREY

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

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