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Self-driving cars are arriving sooner than you think

Mercedes Benz’s new 2014 S-Class sedan is paving the way towards a fully autonomous vehicle.

Driving can be tedious at times; whether you’re stuck in congested traffic, or driving for hours on long stretches of motorways, sometimes you feel that you could be doing something more productive (or wishing that you took the train instead). Automakers have taken note of this, and have started following Google’s lead in developing a fully autonomous vehicle.

Mercedes is making a start with its new 2014 S-Class sedan, revealed in Hamburg on Wednesday, which comes equipped with adaptive cruise control and Distronic Plus Steering Assistance. A 360-degree sensing system comprised of a staggering combination of radar systems, stereoscopic cameras and ultrasonic sensors, can determine the speed and trajectory of potential hazards, and through complex computer algorithms take the most appropriate route of action. This includes maintaining a safe distance from a vehicle in front of you, or applying the brakes to avoid a collision. The system can even ensure that you are centered in your lane on the motorway (even on curves), as well as park your car automatically.

The new S-Class was revealed in style, with singer Alicia Keys performing alongside the Hamburg Symphony, and fireworks

Eventually, changing lanes and overtaking vehicles at speeds of up to 120 MPH will become a possibility. However, currently it is not yet completely autonomous; the vehicle still requires that one hand is on the steering wheel at all times. If no contact is detected, then a warning sounds which eventually shuts the system down completely. Like the autopilot system on an airplane, the vehicle still needs a driver to take control in severe circumstances.

Although the engineers insist that they have vehicles in the lab capable of driving a passenger to their destination without this requirement, there are still several obstacles that need to be overcome for the technology to really take off. Liability is one of them; in the event of an accident, is the automaker or driver to blame?  The system also conducts full data recording at all times, which could raise privacy concerns.

Still, the new 2014 S-Class does present a huge step in autonomous technology; hopefully we will see its full potential being realized in the very near future.

Source: NY Times

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