In the auto industry, Tesla and Mercedes-Benz have pushed the envelope the furthest so far with their autonomous driving functions available for the man on the street.
Every time Mercedes launches a new S- or E-Class the motor industry holds its breath.
Mercedes until now has been considered the benchmark for all other car manufacturers. That is until now, when a small Californian company making battery driven cars decided to put Mercedes to the test.
We love it when an underdog puts up a fight and just had to borrow Goliath, the new E-Class, and put it up against David, the Tesla Model S.
We decided to push gadgets, quality and driving abilities aside for once. For this test it is the future that stands in focus.
To achieve a vision of zero fatalities in traffic we have to remove all elements of human error and emotions. In order to solve traffic congestion and improve the cars functionalty, we must drive faster, more compact yet with increased reaction times. Way faster than an overworked, stressed out and fatigued driver would ever be able to. In other words, the car just has to drive its self.
A computer can drive more economically than you can. It can chuck you out of the car, park better and with less risk than you can. In order to save the auto world, both economically and environmentally, we have to hand it over to a computer.
Subconsciencely it becomes a part of our every day. Smart lighting systems with over 80 lightbulbs illuminate your surroundings better than ever before. The more advanced systems have adaptive speed control so effective that manual input from the driver is all but eliminated. And now they have road sign recognition in addition to internal map systems which keep the driver constantly updated on your estimated time of arrival, traffic congestion, road blocks and speed cameras. They have already become everyday assistants we almost can’t do without.
The new Mercedes-Benz E-Class has just landed, and right now exceeds its big brother on the technology front. The entire car is new, from top to toe. The driving dynamics are a masterful balance between inspiring comfort. The interior is an aesthetic orgy for the mind and soul which almost detaches the driver from the job at hand, getting from A to B.
The elongated dashboard houses two LCD screen and stretches over half the width of the leather swathed cockpit. The functions are navigated with two touch pads, one for each hand with perfect ergonomic design for the driver. Simple, yet genius. But enough of the aesthetic car porn, we are not here to drive, we are here to be chauffered.
Eight radars and a stereo camera controls the main safety assistants like the Active Brake Assist, which brakes automatically to avoid a collision, Attention Warning, keeps the car in lane in the event of you nodding off, and sensors on the side which push you to the center of the car in the event of a blind side collision.
But, the most interesting assistant is not the receptionist we collected the keys from, but the Drive Pilot system. It starts the autonomic driving when the speed assistant is activated. Mercedes claim it is the most advanced system to date. We have tested the system earlier in the S500 at their research and development center in Silicon Valley and it worked flawlessly, in roundabouts, traffic junctions and motorways alike.
Mercedes has all the knowledge, but hesitates when taking the steps to release it to the man on the street. Mercedes gives us a taste of what is to be expected from them in the near future with the new E-Class. In the right conditions, the car should be able to tailgate the car in front at speeds up to 210 kph. Sounds like a PR-stunt, but it’s a closer reality than you think.
Unfortunately during our test drive there was little sign of an artificial intelligent chauffer to be seen. The E-Class is utterly dependent on clear parallel road markings and signs alike. In the eventual absence of one of the elements, the car required immediate input from the driver.
The same was experienced when the road became too twisty. The E-Class lost its track and wandered towards the side of the road, of worse still, towards the oncoming traffic, alarmingly without any sign of other safety systems interfering. Surprising, considering Mercedes have a reputation for being pioneers of automotive safety.
On stretches of road wider or narrower than standard, for example the fly on or off from a motorway, the system became unsetteled and required two helping hands. When the system did finally work, we were constantly reminded to take control of the steering.
The Mercedes system seems to be a bit like a child learning to ride a bike. The stabilizers are gone, it has the ability to ride itself, it just hasn’t yet developed the confidence. The results is a system that panics and without a helping hand, will eventually plant you in a ditch.
....so what about the Tesla Model S?
Our expectations aren’t the highest as I engage the system for the first time. I pull twice on the cruise control lever. A road pops up with two parallel blue stripes on the LCD display screen indicating that the road markings on both sides are registered. As soon as the blue steering wheel appears on the display, just let go …
“Oh my goodness, spooky. It works.” Is our reaction to the Tesla representative.
“This is just a beta version. It’s not quite perfect yet and we recommend keeping your hands on the wheel. The system is at present designed for motorways with four lanes,” replies head of communications Tesla Norway, Even Sandvold Roland
The instructions are never ending when introduced to the Tesla Model S P90D. An electrifying speed machine with 760 horsepower delivered to all four wheels.
Tesla took the auto industry by storm when the Model S was released in 2012. It had beautiful external aesthetics and an interior which threw the traditional rule book to the wall. Gone were the multiple bells and whistle buttons and dials and in place a giant LCD screen. Tesla had replaced the Christmas tree with an iPad and subsequently set a new standard.
Five years later, the equivalent to a century in the auto industry, the system still feels more modern than the majority of the competition. The material quality still lags behind the Germans, but quietness of the cabin noise and the ride quality are ointment for any growing pains the Model S may have.
The system has been available on the Model S since 2014. That means a radar and camera in the front and twelve ultrasonic sensors around the car. These work simultaneously with the GPS and Tesla’s own map system. When the autonomous system was launched, Tesla drivers worldwide suddenly had their hands free.
In contrast to all other systems, Tesla’s system is self-learning. The elder models with the map system have fed Tesla’s map system with data collated from drivers actually driving the road. The updates for the system are therefore real time and continuous. The corner the car struggled with yesterday is executed with perfection the next.
You can follow how the car is thinking on the instrument screen. It shows a real time display of what the car sees, initially the road markings, then the traffic situation around. Officially it shouldn’t, but it does work with only one stripe on the road too.
Motorways and dual carriage ways are easy pickings. We have now driven the car for four days and completed a test rout between Sandvika and Oslo through the Opera tunnel during rush hour. Throughout the 12,5 kilometer test route, we're reminded to take control of the steering once, but only HAVE to regain control 100% twice, once because of a lane merge from three to two lanes.
Tesla recommended not using the system on normal two lane roads. For us that’s their way of saying “Go out and test it on two lanes”.
The system does a surprisingly effective job of driving on normal roads, and works hard to keep us on the right side of safety. When the car is in doubt, the speed is reduced substantially, likewise in anticipation of difficult corners. On the few occasions it does cross the line, the car was able to rectify the situation itself.
The Tesla Model S is not 100% self-driving yet. Even though the technology is in place, we're not able to simply plot in an address and send the car on its way. Lane changes are also still a bit of a challenge, even when engaging the indicators.
However, Tesla’s autonomous system is far superior to the Mercedes.
Tesla has impressed for years already. Just the way you enter and leave the car is unique. The car unlocks as you approach it and all you have to do is sit in the driver’s seat and you’re ready to go. At your destination, set the car in ‘P’ and leave. It then locks automatically.
You can even program the Tesla to open your automatic garage door as you approach, then it simply parks itself. The anxiety of a tight mall car parking spot is a thing of the past. The Tesla smartphone app will park it for you. It’s just like having your own private chauffer without the tiresome conversation.
Tesla dares where Mercedes opts out. The E-Class is able to communicate with other cars with the same system, but is also tied down with more restrictions.
As tested, Tesla is a better system that is more active and safer in use. It keeps you on the right side of the road which is where we want to be. The Mercedes alarmingly crossed the line and then reset itself in the opposite lane of the oncoming traffic. A place you definitely DON’T want to be.
On the other hand, the Mercedes systems are always active, while the Tesla system keeping you in your lane is only active when also using the Autopilot.
However, when you do engage the Tesla system, it works far better than it really should, and is without a shadow of a doubt a proper taste of the future of driving. And we love it!
It drives itself... Or?
Tesla and Mercedes are the most self driving cars today. Take a look at how it turned out when we challenged the systems on the demanding Gamle Mossevei outside of Oslo.
RED. ANM.: Denne artikkelen er oversatt til engelsk på grunn av stort påtrykk fra utlandet. Vi er åpenbart ikke alene om å se at dett er spennende nytt.