The 2014 Mercedes-Benz S Class due out next year will be the first car in history to offer customers a fully autonomous system, whereby the car will be able to drive itself--in certain situations--without any driver involvement.
This is made possible due to an extensive array of sensors on the new S Class (26 in total), which can monitor traffic and road markings up to 656 feet in front and help control the car together with complex computer algorithms and electronic steering.
Mercedes calls its new autonomous system Steering Assist and boasts that it can work at speeds of up to 124 mph. It starts working as soon as Mercedes’ existing cruise control system, Distronic Plus, is activated by the driver.
Though it’s not capable of negotiating corners yet, Steering Assist is impressive in highway situations and monotonous stop and go traffic. During a recent simulator test, we found Steering Assist to feel natural and very relaxing.
During highway driving, the system relies on road markings to keep the car in its lane. When traffic builds up, it relies on surrounding vehicles to stay its course. Steering Assist is even advanced enough to read passing road signs and adjust to meet the required driving state.
So that the driver doesn’t suddenly nod off, he or she is still required to pay attention at all times and is expected to take control when necessary. Mercedes has ensured that the driver needs to keep their hands on the wheel for the system to work and has included other technology to monitor the driver's alertness and send a warning if necessary.
Note, Steering Assist is just one of numerous new safety features debuting on the 2014 Mercedes-Benz S Class. Other features include new pedestrian and cross-traffic crash prevention systems, as well as improved active lane keeping and blind spot assistance systems.