Mercedes-Benz has just launched the E-Class 2021 and, like many of its German luxury siblings, will be equipped with the company's latest driver assistance functions. The new E-Class also changes the way the car registers whether the driver is careful when using these functions, as Mercedes-Benz is introducing a new wheel with capacitive detection.
Previously, the E-Class (and other Mercedes-Benz vehicles) determined by measuring the movement in the wheel whether a driver's hands were on the steering wheel. The problem with this method is that it is often difficult to find the right balance between how much movement has to be measured to ensure that one hand is on the steering wheel. Set the bar too low and it's easy to cheat. Too high and you ask the driver for input that could change the physical trajectory of the car.
Driver monitoring was a focus of a recent government hearing on autopilot
Now the new E-Class only knows that the driver's hands are on the steering wheel. That doesn't mean that there are no ways to defraud the system – there are always ways. However, capacitive detection could be easier than measuring the steering input.
All of this is important as new cars are increasingly being filled with technologies that can take on some of the driving tasks. The new E-Class, for example, has an active steering assistant (which keeps the vehicle in the middle of the lane), an adaptive cruise control (which can automatically adapt the speed to the activities of the vehicles in front) and an active braking assistant (which keeps the car stationary) Vehicles and when crossing pedestrians from the city speed) and more.
The problem is that as cars become more capable of performing these tasks, there is a greater risk that people will become too sure of these skills.
This was a key topic during a three-hour hearing by the National Transportation Safety Board last week in Washington, DC, about a fatal 2018 crash with Tesla's autopilot.
In this accident, the driver's Model X drifted left from a HOV lane into a concrete barrier, even though he was using Tesla's driver assistance system, autopilot, at that time.
There were a number of factors that contributed to the driver's death, e.g. B. that the safety device in front of the concrete barrier was damaged and the lane lines of the motorway had faded. However, the NTSB found that excessive driver confidence in the autopilot's capabilities was one of the most likely root causes. In fact, the security committee's investigation team found that he was playing a cell phone game on his smartphone before hitting the barrier.
Tesla uses a torque sensor to measure whether a driver's hands are on the steering wheel when the autopilot is active. And if not enough torque is measured every 15 seconds, a series of escalating warnings are given to the driver before the autopilot is finally deactivated until the car is restarted. But even these safeguards weren't enough to stop the driver from abusing autopilot in this 2018 crash.
The industry is divided over how drivers can best watch out
Other companies have taken a completely different direction when it comes to monitoring driver attention while autopilot-like features are active. Super Cruise, the driver assistance package for Cadillac's cars, uses eye tracking cameras to ensure that the driver looks out on the road. Cadillac is so convinced of the effectiveness of this method that drivers can use Super Cruise hands-free, but only on motorways that the company has specified. (In combination with the camera system, Cadillac also uses capacitive sensors in the steering wheel.)
It is still difficult to say which type of driver monitoring system is best. All of these technologies are still relatively new. But more of them come onto the market every year. The Audi E-Tron, for example, has a capacitive steering wheel. And Ford's new Mustang Mach-E will be equipped with a Super Cruise-like camera system by the end of this year when it hits the streets. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, meanwhile is sticking to torque sensors after saying in 2018 that camera systems are "ineffective".
The NTSB recognized this dispersed approach last week and, as part of completing its investigation, recommended that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration help develop standards for driver monitoring systems that “minimize driver disengagement, prevent complacency in automation, and predictable abuse take automation into account ”and require it in all vehicles with autopilot-like functions.
If Mercedes-Benz's capacitive approach seems to work well, it could spread to other vehicles in the company's product range, as the technology is part of a completely new generation of steering wheels.
Regardless of the method, however, you should take into account the words of NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt from last week's hearing: “If you own a car with partial automation, you don't own a self-driving car. Don't pretend you're doing it. "