IMMENDINGEN, Germany -- As Tesla touts the cutting-edge nature of its new Full Self Driving software, rival Mercedes-Benz says it has developed a similar system but stops short of allowing members of the public to take it on urban roads.
The Germans, pioneers in developing advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), are taking a step-by-step approach to releasing new technology, waiting for their own engineers, rather than the public, to validate their system.
Both approaches -- one conservative and one radical in nature -- are designed to push highly automated driving on to public roads, a step that could massively reduce accidents, since computers have faster accident-avoidance reflexes than humans.
ADAS can provide steering, braking and acceleration support under limited circumstances, generally on highways.
Automakers have refrained from relying on their technology to let cars navigate urban inner-city traffic. Tesla broke this tradition earlier this month when it released its FSD software, which allows its computer-powered cars to test their reflexes in inner-city traffic, with a warning that its cars "May Do the Wrong Thing at the Worst Time."
Mercedes does not allow members of the public to test still-experimental systems. Its engineers need to pass an eligibility exam to become test drivers, and another one for testing automated driving systems, the automaker said.
Rather than force their customers to put their trust in processors, software and the ability of machines to learn over time, the Germans want their cars to be validated by engineers so that they remain predictable for owners.
"We do not want blind trust. We want informed trust in the car. The customer needs to know exactly what the car can and cannot do," a Mercedes spokesman told Reuters on the sidelines of the automaker's test track in Immendingen, Germany.
"The worst thing would be if the car gets into a complex situation and there was ambiguity over whether the car is in control or not," he said.
This is why the Stuttgart-based automaker, owned by Daimler, is emphasizing its decades-old experience with ADAS as it seeks to gain global regulatory approval for its own Drive Pilot system that offers Level 3 autonomy.
Level 3 means the driver can legally take his eyes off the wheel and the company, Daimler in this case, would have to assume insurance liability, depending on the jurisdiction. The new Tesla system requires customers to take responsibility for any crash.