Mercedes-Benz's success on the Bertha Benz route is the latest result of years of research in the field of autonomous driving. An earlier milestone was the Daimler-Benz-initiated research project EUREKA-PROMETHEUS ("Programme for European Traffic with Highest Efficiency and Unprecedented Safety"), which ran from 1986 and whose test vehicles made headlines when, in 1994, in normal traffic, they covered around 1000 kilometres, mainly autonomously, on a multi-lane motorway in the Paris region and then, in 1995, drove from Munich to Copenhagen. Consequently, almost 20 years ago, Mercedes-Benz demonstrated that automated driving on motorways, including lane-changing, overtaking and keeping a safe distance, is technically feasible.
One of the outcomes of the Prometheus project was DISTRONIC adaptive cruise control, which went into production in the S-Class in 1998. Based on DISTRONIC, Mercedes-Benz has developed a succession of assistance systems capable of detecting hazardous situations, warning the driver and, ever more frequently, also automatically intervening. The project also resulted in Speed Limit Assist, which went into series production in 2005. Continuous further advances in environment detection using stereo cameras, also first tested as part of PROMETHEUS, created the foundation for the "6D Vision" stereo camera, which has now been launched in the new E- and S-Class. Patented by Daimler, this technology makes it possible to anticipate the real-time movements of other nearby road users.
At a technical level, Prometheus and the Mercedes-Benz S 500 INTELLIGENT DRIVE are worlds apart. "Progress has been due above all to modern-day hardware and software, which have been the focus of targeted optimisation over the years," explains Mercedes-Benz development chief Weber. "Technical components in those days were much too big and much too expensive for standard use in automobiles. Also, they were not powerful or reliable enough. The situation today is a quite different one. Our modern systems can be installed in compact control units that, while exceptionally powerful, are still affordable. Because that's the only way in which the maximum possible number of customers can benefit from autonomous vehicle functions – and that's our ultimate goal."
Mercedes-Benz assistance systems with partially automated driving functions in standard-production vehicles