Mercedes-Benz Begins Pilot-Testing Its Autonomous Taxis
The announcement comes a few weeks after Ola Källenius, Chairman of the Board of Management of Daimler AG and head of Mercedes-Benz Cars, expressed concerns about the direction that his company is taking with its autonomous technologies
Despite the Daimler head’s trepidations, industry reporters are confirming that the project testing will proceed, with 30 prototypes set for testing.
Daimler unveiled its pilot-testing plans in November of last year, announcing that San Jose was the intended city to test its fleet of fully automated (SAE level 4/5) on-demand ride-hailing taxis. Daimler, Bosch, and the city of San Jose signed a memorandum of understanding to pursue and finalize the activity, which back then was targeted to begin during the second half of 2019.
Whether the parties intended for the trials to begin this late in the year is questionable, and Källenius’s apprehensions may have played a factor.
"We have not put the project on ice,” a representative involved in the project revealed to interviewers. “We are looking at where we can improve efficiency and gain synergies so we don't unnecessarily duplicate or triplicate our development work.”
The rep emphasized that the primary goal of Daimler and Bosch’s self-driving taxi tests is to collect data not only from the taxis themselves, but also from customers. The project seeks to answer what would compel customers to use the service.
"This pilot program is about capturing the user experience,” the rep added.
The interviewee also adds that they are not taking any chances with the cars, for while the cars are autonomous, there’s still a safety driver on board to take control of the car in case the unexpected happens. They are also conducting the tests on public roads to avoid further legal complications.
Daimler isn’t the only car manufacturer that wants to test its self-driving cars on California roads. Sources say that over 60 companies were given the go signal by the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). These include car makers BMW, Nissan, Subaru, and Volkswagen, and tech companies Waymo, Nvidia, Apple, and Samsung.
To be approved for a permit, a testing company is required to have a safety driver onboard their vehicles. Collisions must also be reported immediately to the DMV, along with instances when the autonomous system had to be shut down and let the emergency driver take over.