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Mercedes shows off fully autonomous S-Class, promises production version by 2020

Mercedes’ flagship S-Class sedan has so many tech features that it can practically drive itself. Now, Mercedes said the 2020 version will drive itself.

While the newly redesigned 2014 S-Class does have some autonomous capabilities, mostly useful for driving in stop-and-go traffic, Mercedes has also built a fully autonomous prototype.

Last month, the S500 Intelligent Drive went on a 60-mile road trip between Mannheim and Pforzheim, Germany, retracing the route taken by Bertha Benz exactly 125 years ago.

Bertha was the wife of Mercedes co-founder Carl Benz, and her trip is considered the first long-distance automobile drive.

Through it all, the S500 Intelligent Drive conquered traffic, stoplights, roundabouts, and other driving obstacles without crashing once, Mercedes says. However, an engineer seated behind the wheel did have to take control in a few instances.

With its array of cameras, sensors, and radar, the 2014 S-Class already had the makings of an autonomous car; it could gather enough data about its environment to support an autopilot.

The S500 Intelligent Drive uses this data, along with a digital map, to determine where it can go. The map was developed by Nokia, and includes important details like the number and direction of lanes, position of traffic lights, and road signs.

Mercedes says digital maps like this one are a prerequisite to an autonomous production car. Nissan has also set 2020 as the year they start selling autonomous cars.

Mercedes S500 Intelligent DriveThe company hopes to have such a car in production by 2020, but it first it has to overcome several technical and legal hurdles. Robots aren’t licensed to drive in most places, after all.

So will all chauffeurs be out of a job by the end of the decade?

Mercedes says the goal of its autonomous car isn’t to displace human drivers, although it does believe eliminating human error will make the roads safer. Rather, Stuttgart hopes self-driving cars will give people more freedom, by allowing those who can’t normally drive to travel independently.

It may also lead people to start treating their cars as mobile living rooms. With its many LCD screens, fold-out desk and optional perfume spritzer, the S-Class is already leaning towards the latter.

Are you ready to let your car take the wheel? Or would an autonomous car be helpful to some you know who can’t drive? Leave a comment.

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Stephen Edelstein
Stephen is a freelance automotive journalist covering all things cars. He likes anything with four wheels, from classic cars…
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