Road traffic in South Africa presents some very special challenges: different road surfaces, wildlife on rural roads and many pedestrians in the city as well as in the interurban traffic who often cross lanes completely unexpectedly. Automated and autonomous vehicles have to be aware of these peculiarities and respond in a reliable manner.

In the fourth leg of the Mercedes-Benz Intelligent World Drive, the test vehicle – based on the current S-Class series-production saloon – is facing up to South Africa’s idiosyncrasies with automated test drives on the roads of the Western Cape and in the city of Cape Town.

Mercedes-Benz started the Intelligent World Drive at the Frankfurt International Motor Show (IAA) in September to adapt more highly automated driving functions to national traffic and user practices. The aim is to gather global insights into real-life traffic conditions for the advancement of the technologies. As part of this (until January 2018), the test vehicle is collecting comprehensive information in a variety of complex traffic situations on 5 continents and, in doing so, is sounding out the limitations of the current systems.

The focus of the test drives on the Western Cape is on pedestrian detection in many unfamiliar situations in particular, both in dense city traffic as well as on rural roads. Furthermore, the test vehicle is collecting information for detecting road signs specific to the country, validating the digital map material of HERE MAPS and testing out a prototype of the innovative light system DIGITAL LIGHT.

The erratic pedestrian behaviour calls for an additional, increased level of awareness and thus also poses particular challenges for the sensor systems of automated and autonomous vehicles. Cameras and radar systems have to detect passers-by and interpret their movement correctly so that the vehicle can react within milliseconds in the event of an emergency.

Further special features include traffic signs which are only found in the 15 Member States of the Southern African Development Community, such as South Africa, Namibia, Botswana or the Seychelles. For example, the NO STOPPING sign shows a crossed-out letter ‘S’ in a red circle, while the sign for NO ENTRY is made up of two black horizontal bars in a red circle.

In addition, the road traffic signs in South Africa are often incomplete. Intersections where you have to stop are not always indicated by a stop sign – in some cases, they only have wide, white lines across the road surface. Warning signs before the commonly-found speed bumps are also not always present, or are positioned close to the obstacle that there is insufficient time to react.

The lack of signs presents a major challenge for the performance of the camera and radar systems as well as the quality of the digital maps, which enable automated driving functions such as the Active Distance Assist DISTRONIC with route-based speed adjustment to function reliably. Validating the latest digital map material from HERE, particularly with regard to intersections where the vehicle would need to stop and traffic obstructions such as speed bumps, is therefore a particular focus of the test drives on the Western Cape.

Goodyear Duraplus

The special requirements in South Africa show how important it is to gather worldwide insights into real-life traffic on the road to autonomous driving and to adapt automated driving functions to the particular traffic practices and conditions. This is why Mercedes-Benz is testing automated driving functions on 5 continents with the Intelligent World Drive, and in doing so is collecting valuable information for the further development of the technologies.

After South Africa, the test vehicle will take on the challenge of road traffic in the USA on the last leg of its journey in January. The test drive in the Los Angeles area and subsequently on to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas will concentrate on an evaluation of driving behaviour in dense urban traffic and traffic jams as well as traffic overtaking on the right on highways.

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[Chips Yap]

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