The auto industry took a small step toward autonomous driving when Mercedes-Benz announced Wednesday that it will automate some lane changes on its new E-Class next spring.
Drivers at highway speeds will only need to activate a turn signal, and the car will then switch lanes, provided it determines it’s safe to do so. The new feature from Daimler — which some have called the leader in autonomous driving — is similar to a feature in Tesla’s autopilot that arrived in October.
For the automated lane change to work, the car must be traveling between 50 mph and 112 mph and having steering assist activated. (That feature keeps the vehicle in the center of the lane.) Once the turn signal has been on for two seconds — and the car’s sensors determine a safe change can be made in three seconds — the vehicle will change lanes. The E-Class will rely on a camera and radar to ensure there isn’t a car in its path and to identify lane markings. Mercedes-Benz says the system will only work on multi-lane highways.
In a news release the automaker made a point of noting that it doesn’t believe the system will make driving less fun. It’s designed to help motorists with the less enjoyable aspects of driving. A key question for automakers is how to balance adopting the safety offerings of autonomous vehicles, while not alienating customers who enjoy driving.
Earlier this year Mercedes-Benz unveiled a concept car of an autonomous vehicle in which the driver’s seat could pivot and face passengers in the back seat. It also showed off a self-driving truck at the Hoover Dam in a push to encourage regulators to prepare for autonomous vehicles.