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INNOVATION

Autonomous system testing: design + data

Melbourne’s hook turns can baffle even the most proficient of drivers and advanced of machines. So discovered German-based Mercedes-Benz engineer who is in charge of testing and validation, Jochen Haab, is conducting testing of automated driving systems on Australian roads to launch a 12 month program.

Haab heads up the brand’s automated driving and active safety systems and is in Australia testing an E-Class that is fitted with software similar to what will appear in the next generation S-Class.

“It is crucial to collect data on the systems in different countries and conditions. Today I did my first hook turn, and I was glad to do it. It shows the challenge of autonomous driving, as it is not something that is on our radars [in Germany].

“It is all about data and getting experience – looking at real life situations, those coincidences, the moods of drivers and using that to verify our technology,” said Haab, who was speaking at an invitation-only event at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) as part of its Melbourne Design Week program during March.

Haab is also using his time in Australia to assess and gather data on various systems such as speed limit adaption for cruise control and LED signage. The team of three engineers is collecting data that will help refine how the S-Class systems understand and react to the electric signs. “With the S-Class we will still have the chance to turn some little knobs.”

 Data-driven research

While his job includes time in different countries conducting testing, Haab is usually hard at work, along with 11,000 other engineers and specialists, at Mercedes-Benz’s research and development facility for passenger cars, in Sindelfingen, Germany.

This R&D centre is attached to one of the company’s biggest plants in the world, which manufacturers the E-Class, among others. This is an advantage, believes Haab: “production and design can learn from each other”.

In testing a new generation, the R&D team alone will conduct at least two million kilometres of testing.

 Autonomous driving evolution

Naturally, a discussion about automated driving leads to questions about autonomous cars.

While much of the technology is already available, a world of autonomous cars is “many decades” away, believes Haab.

“Cars are on an evolutionary path but there are two paths. One is automated driving – the technology is there – we, and others – have shown that it works. But we need to look at the business case. Full driverless alternatives are decades away but there will be some automation in some situations – that is only a few years away.”

For now, Haab remains focused on gathering data on our Australian conditions – and perfecting his hook turn in Melbourne, of course.

Words Lucy Siebert