Sajjad Khan heads up Mercedes-Benz’s future technology development, grouped under the name CASE, short for connected, autonomous, shared and electric. He recently spoke to Automotive News Europe Correspondent Christiaan Hetzner about the challenges slowing the debut of self-driving cars.
You plan to test Level 4 cars together with Robert Bosch in San Jose, California, by year-end. When will we see tests like this in Germany?
We are already testing our cars with safety drivers on public roads in Stuttgart, with permission from the local authorities. What is unique about San Jose is it’s a pilot project with special parameters. We plan to do the same in Germany, but you will have to wait a little bit. It will be in the foreseeable future.
How big of an issue is the lack of regulatory support?
Once we have the technology ready and available for fully autonomous vehicles that require no human drivers, we believe policymakers will work together hand in hand with us to bring them to market. The first task is to develop it.
But the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe has yet to approve a Level 3 system for sale in Europe, and the S class that should feature this is coming next year. How are you handling this?
I am optimistic that we will have clarity on the specific regulations by the middle of the next year. Daimler wouldn’t approve its use anyway, however, until we are convinced it is 99.999 percent safe and can drive in the same neighborhood where children are playing.
What are the biggest hurdles?
There is no one specific issue that is impeding progress. We have challenges to overcome in terms of perception, path planning, mapping and the accuracy of certain sensors, for example. Some of these things are more complicated to solve than others. Ultimately, these are all manageable because it’s the combination that matters. If one part of the equation is less advanced, we have the opportunity to compensate elsewhere.
So get used to waiting?
Let me put it this way. In 2015 and 2016 when we were working on in-car connectivity, we talked about bringing a game-changing technology to market. That baby came to be known as MBUX [short for Mercedes-Benz User Experience, which is the automaker’s in-car multimedia system]. With that same passion and focus, we are working on autonomous driving.