Daimler’s race to catch up with the tech giants is largely being run out of research centers in California and in Boeblingen, near its headquarters in Stuttgart. Christian Weiss, the head of autonomous driving, and Thao Dang, who leads the systems integration team, oversee daily tests on five V-class vans, pushing them to the limit. The vehicles, packed with computer gear and sporting four sensors visible as yellow domes on the outside, search out tough traffic situations during rush hour.
“The truth for any self-driving vehicle is on the street,” Weiss said during a demonstration that showed how the cars learn to act safely even with incomplete information. “We don’t need to go far around here to find challenging situations” in the congested, winding roads around Germany’s motor city.
Daimler has also stepped up partnerships, joining forces in April with Robert Bosch GmbH, the world’s biggest automotive supplier, to bring driverless taxis to the road by 2023. It’s also cooperating with Uber Technologies Inc. to include Daimler’s self-driving vehicles in its ride-hailing network in the future. Mercedes’ own autonomous will have a distinct styling, according to Zetsche, who has reluctantly accepted that this is the future.