Georges Massing: ‘Autonomous driving will come, slowly but inevitably’

One of the speakers at the Automotive eMotion Summit organized by sector federation Febiac a few months ago was Georges Massing, who is working for Mercedes-Benz on autonomous driving and the integration of this in the car. Massing is Vice-President MB.OS Autonomous Driving and E/E Integration.

In his contribution, Massing put great emphasis on safety. “Safety is essential for Mercedes-Benz,” he explained, “and that’s inside the car, for the occupants, and outside the car, for the bystanders.”

“Mercedes has a tradition of safety, as well passive safety – we aim to offer the safest vehicle in the world, regardless of the drivetrain – as active safety, where we can now offer a Drive Pilot mastering Level 3 autonomous driving and are the first manufacturer licensed for it.”

“A third, more recent zone of action in the safety field is the ‘safer city’. What if there were no or far less danger zones in an urban environment?  We work together with the city authorities to solve problems. In Flanders, for example, we are cooperating on collecting info on the so-called black points and on trying to find a remedy for these hotspots, including the use of AI.”

“For this, road safety algorithms are used, and, apart from Flanders, we are working already on this in London, the Netherlands, Sweden, and so on. In the future, we want to be helping to solve safety problems in the top 100 cities of the world.”

Mercedes-Benz seems to be at the forefront of the movement toward autonomous driving, but are we there yet?

“It will come slowly but inevitably. Until now, autonomous driving levels 2 and 3 concern cars moving in the same direction. If one comes from an urban area, there are different traffic components and also different users. The solution will be Artificial Intelligence (AI). It’s all about learning, and AI doesn’t stop learning. It learns from good and bad behavior, and it’s also a sort of community learning, learning from each other.”

Are the next levels coming in sight?

“We are on it. At the airport in Stuttgart, for example, we’re already using a level 4 parking system. But one mustn’t see this as a competition of levels.”

“What’s customers’ ultimate expectation if they think about autonomous driving? That the car drives itself and that they can give the car responsibility. That’s still a far cry away.”

“We can’t go running before we start walking. The current level 2 and 3 systems also make us get used to automated systems. You get more information about what the car is doing.”

So, it’s also important what info you’re giving to the clients?

“That’s for sure. At Mercedes, we clearly distinguish between automated driving and autonomous driving. In the former, the driver stays (and has to stay) in control; in the latter, the car takes over control. The communication about this has to be very clear.”

And then there is also the ethical and jurisdictional side of it?

Of course. In any case, we can’t make a choice about driving safety. You can not train the system about everything that can possibly happen, but the more information you have, the better the system will function.”

AI will completely dry out without information and without gathering as much data as possible. I see a time frame for the first applications of real autonomous driving in all circumstances around 2030. But then we will also need car-to-car communication and, also very important, car-to-infrastructure.”

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