As the big Mercedes-Benz sedan roars down U.S. 101 south of San Francisco, it closes on an old pickup truck cruising along in its lane. The driver flicks the turn signal for a pass, but then, unexpectedly, takes his hands off the wheel. The new sedan pauses for two seconds and then completes the maneuver on its own.
While it could be another five years or so until automakers roll out the first fully autonomous vehicles, they’re already beginning to introduce semi-autonomous features like the Auto Lane Change system on the new 2017 Mercedes-Benz E300, as well as Tesla’s new AutoPilot system. Traditionally, the industry has taken a go-slow approach to technology, typically waiting for new government rules and regulations. But in an unusual turnabout, federal regulators are letting the auto industry take the lead.
That’s pushing carmakers like Mercedes into something of a “gray zone,” said Bart Herring, the general manager of product management for Mercedes-Benz USA. Federal regulators “don’t want to stand in the way and that’s very progressive, something that we as a manufacturer really appreciate.” (more…)