Mercedes-Benz Trials Luxury US Driverless Airport Shuttles

Mercedes-Benz will use autonomously converted versions of its flagship S-Class to trial an airport shuttle service in the US.

The pilot program, run with technology supplied by Bosch, will see an app-based ride-hailing service using driverless vehicles launched in the Silicon Valley city of San José. In line with current trials by other automakers and ride-hailing companies, the program will be monitored by a safety driver and the self-driving cars shuttle will run between West San José and downtown, along the San Carlos Street and Stevens Creek Boulevard thoroughfares.

The service will kick-off by being available to a select group of users. They will use an app developed by Daimler Mobility AG to book a journey by the automated S-Class vehicles from a defined pick-up point to their destination. Both Bosch and Mercedes-Benz hope this trial will provide insights into the further development of their Level 4/5 automated driving system. They also expect to gain experience into how self-driving cars can be integrated into an intermodal mobility system that also includes public transportation and car-sharing.

The companies say they have been working on autonomous technology for about two and a half years and now are hoping to make the leap into developing a production-ready system that can be integrated into different vehicle types and models. They say their technologies do not rely solely on artificial intelligence and clocking up test mileage relying on simulations and specially designed proving grounds to address the kind of driving situations that occur only very rarely in road traffic.

In addition, the partnership says it is not exclusively concerned with the road and weather conditions in the United States. While one part of the team is based in Sunnyvale, a Silicon Valley city between San José and San Francisco, another part comprising engineers from both companies works in the Stuttgart area.

Also for this trial, the pair have taken a further partner on board in the shape of Daimler Mobility which is developing and testing a fleet platform to accompany the pilot operation phase. This claims to allow potential ride-hailing partners to integrate self-driving Mercedes-Benz vehicles into their service portfolio. The platform manages both self-driving and conventional vehicles, including operation and maintenance.

Dr Uwe Keller, head of autonomous driving at Mercedes-Benz, said: “It’s not just the automated vehicles that have to prove their mettle. We also need proof that they can fit in as a piece of the urban mobility puzzle. We can test both these things in San José.”

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in London. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_

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