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Mercedes’ next-gen autopilot probably won’t run you into a van like Tesla’s

Published Jun 23rd, 2016 12:11PM EDT
Tesla Vs Mercedes

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Through a combination of great marketing and rushing out ‘Autopilot’ while it’s still in beta, Tesla has managed to become the big name in semi-autonomous driving (though there have been a couple of bumps in the road so far). But as you’d imagine, other automakers are working on programs of their own.

USA Today recently got behind the wheel of a Mercedes E-Class equipped with all the autonomous driving tech that will be coming to Mercedes’s cars in the next year. It all sounds quite similar to Tesla, but you won’t be able to sleep behind the wheel.

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Autonomous driving features are coming to the 2017 E-Class, which is a big deal, because that’s the company’s mid-range sedan. The higher-end S-Class has featured adaptive cruise control for over a decade, but moving a more sophisticated version of that into the E-Class shows that Mercedes thinks advanced cruise control is ready for prime time.

The features sound a lot like Tesla’s Autopilot, but the focus is very much on safety as well as driver convenience:

•Drive Pilot. it not only maintains distance from the car in front of you, but also can follow that car through curves.

Steering Pilot. This feature includes a lane change feature. Once you’ve set the cruise control, you can use the turn signals to make the car change lanes without your intervention. It will make the change as long as the car doesn’t detect a vehicle in the adjacent lane or one approaching at a high rate of speed, which it can determine using its long-range rear-facing radar.

Side radar. The system detects an impending side impact. If it does, it will rapidly inflate a bladder in the front seat sides that will push you a few inches away from the side of the impact to reduce the shock. It also plays a burst of static noise over the audio system to prime muscles to compensate for for the loud blasts of airbags and the impact itself.

•Evasive Steering Assist. The feature helps you steer around obstacles at low speeds, such as a pedestrian that might have walked out in front of you.

Emergency Stop Assist. It activates your hazard lights and bring your car to a safe halt if it detects that you haven’t touched the steering wheel in a while, assuming you’ve had a medical emergency.

•Active Brake Assist. This feature brakes the car if it detects an impending collision and you haven’t reacted.

Speed Limit Pilot. Now you can automatically adjust your speed to the local speed limit when it changes along the highway. It can be overridden manually.

The focus on safety is clear, and it’s a real departure from the way Tesla has been doing things. Tesla’s Autopilot will allow you to conduct an entire journey without touching the wheel, something that’s been abused by people who want to sleep, or climb into the back seat.

Allowing people not to touch the wheel also implies that Tesla’s system is far better than it really is. Videos are all over YouTube showing Autopiloted Teslas swerving violently, or not picking up other vehicles on the road.

Mercedes’s system isn’t perfect either from the sounds of things. The USA Today reporter who drove the new E-Class noted that “at lower speeds it failed three times to detect a vehicle that was merging into my lane, causing me to hit the brakes to avoid a low-speed collision.”

Chris Mills
Chris Mills News Editor

Chris Mills has been a news editor and writer for over 15 years, starting at Future Publishing, Gawker Media, and then BGR. He studied at McGill University in Quebec, Canada.

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