There is growing scientific consensus about the benefits of taking humans out of the equation when it comes to driving cars. Although the roads have become safer, vehicles better protected and drivers trained to a higher level of competency over the last few decades, there are still fatal accidents on a regular basis in the UK. Whether or not people are prepare to relinquish control is another matter, because for many the concept of allowing a machine to take over and manage the speed and direction of a car weighing at least a ton is intrinsically terrifying.
However, Mercedes-Benz proved that you can take a relatively typical car and turn it into a self-driving vehicle of the future with an experiment involving a new S500 saloon which was conducted this month, according to the Daily Star.
An S500 equipped with a new Mercedes car service called Intelligent Drive was taken on a 60 mile route between Mannheim and Pforzheim, recreating the same journey which Bertha Benz took back in 1888 to prove the viability of motor vehicles for use by average drivers. Bertha was of course the wife of Carl Benz, who went on to help forge the automotive giant that is internationally renowned 125 years later.
Using Intelligent Drive, the S500 is capable of dealing with the hazards and obstacles presented to it on modern roads without requiring its human occupants to get involved in the process. Everything from pedestrians and cyclists to junctions and roundabouts were tackled during the trip and there was not a single hitch along the way.
Soon you should be able to buy used cars in Plymouth which offer similar functionality, because the key thing about Intelligent Drive is that it does not rely on any particularly esoteric technologies, but instead takes advantage of pre-existing sensors that are already featured in a number of Mercedes vehicles.
Project spokesperson Dr Dieter Zetsche said that Intelligent Drive was a proof of concept which compiles the collective capabilities of modern car hardware into a cohesive system for self-driving which really works. He also pointed out that recreating the 125 year old route with the S500 was noteworthy because it might have been much easier to send the car out on the motorway, while instead the team chose to give it a technically harder time of things on the winding back roads that faced Bertha Benz.
The simple fact of the matter is that automated systems are capable of receiving, analysing and acting on information in a fraction of a second, whereas human drivers cannot hope to respond in anywhere close to the same amount of time when behind the wheel.
Self-driving technology will take many years to trickle through to all areas of the automotive market and people will remain in control for some time. But if a moving car can become a place to be productive, rather than somewhere where all your attention is focused on keeping the vehicle on the road, then the potential benefits are exciting.