The new Mercedes E-Class: Autonomous driving and remote parking

The new E-Class, which has the internal designation W213, puts the auto – the Greek word for ‘self’ – into automobile. And the latest model from Mercedes-Benz is the closest we have come yet to a vehicle that can drive – and park – all by itself. This E-Class is a further step towards the self-driving car. It’s about time too. After all, 130 years have passed since Gottlieb Daimler invented the motor car – sending countless coach horses into retirement – and only now are we beginning to free motorists from the stresses and strains of driving. In the latest E-Class, Daimler is showing just how much is now possible thanks to digitisation, and how technology can take the burden off the driver, increasing both ride comfort and road safety.

Keyless Go 2.0

The digital revolution begins before you even get in the car. There is no need for a conventional key when you’ve connected your secure-SIM smartphone with the W213. The door will open all by itself and the E-Class will be primed to start. This is made possible by the smartphone’s ‘digital vehicle key’ that uses near field communication (NFC) to permit access to the car and allow it to be driven. And it will even work when the phone has very low battery.

The digital key is composed of an NFC control unit, a touch sensor in the driver door that controls access to the vehicle and a further touch sensor in the interior that permits it to be driven. Once the smartphone has been activated, the digital key can be used free of charge for three years before any additional costs are incurred.

Parking by smartphone

Smartphones don’t just play an important role in starting the W213, they also help with parking. The E-Class is the first model to feature Mercedes-Benz’s Remote Parking Pilot, which allows the vehicle to be remotely manoeuvred into and out of narrow spaces and garages using a smartphone app.

The system uses the PARKTRONIC parking pilot’s ultrasonic sensors, with the vehicle’s cameras providing a 360-degree surround view. To manoeuvre the vehicle into and out of a space, the driver has to be within approximately three metres of the car and needs to have the app launched on their smartphone. The electronics system uses the vehicle key to check that the driver is not actually behind the wheel.

Easier parking in multi-storey car parks

The smartphone and vehicle are connected using Bluetooth®. The smartphone first has to be activated on the Mercedes me website. Multiple vehicles can be stored on the app – but only one at a time can be controlled. Once the connection is up and running, the parking procedure can begin. The technology is particularly useful in narrow spaces in multi-storey car parks, most of which still conform to the narrower vehicle dimensions that were common in the 1970s.

The Parking Pilot can be used in most parking situations, such as parking with and against the traffic flow, forward and reverse parking, and parallel parking. Throughout the parking procedure, the driver has to make a continuous circular motion on the display of their smartphone.

No need to worry about speed cameras any more

So far, so good. But the W213 is above all a vehicle that makes semi-autonomous driving possible on motorways, country roads and even in cities thanks to the Drive Pilot. If the vehicle is fitted with COMAND Online, the Drive Pilot’s Speed Limit Pilot can automatically adjust the speed of the vehicle in relation to any camera-detected speed limits – even those that are indicated on gantries and in roadworks. And the DISTRONIC Distance Pilot can automatically restrict the speed of the car to any limits that are logged in the navigation system, such as the 50 km/h limit within towns and villages or the 100 km/h limit on country roads.

Stress-free driving in stop-and-go traffic

At speeds up to 130 km/h, the new Steering Pilot function is no longer dependent solely on clearly visible lane markings for orientation as it can now actively manoeuvre even if the lines on the road are unclear. In stop-and-go traffic, which has traditionally been a major source of stress, the Drive Pilot can take control at speeds of up to 30 km/h, taking much of the strain off the driver’s shoulders.

These sensor-controlled pilots also do their bit to make the roads safer. The Drive Pilot, for example, can independently change lanes on dual carriageways and motorways: if the driver wants to overtake, for example, and is travelling at less than 180 km/h, all they need to do is leave the indicator on for at least two seconds. However, the vehicle will only overtake if the desired lane is actually free and will not do so if the driver is too eager and has misjudged the distances to the surrounding traffic.

Responsibility remains with the driver

Despite all these assistance features, sole responsibility remains with the driver in all situations. If the driver’s hands are removed from the wheel for a significant period of time, an acoustic and optical warning signal will be given. If the driver doesn’t respond, the vehicle will decelerate in its lane until it comes to a safe standstill and then turn on the hazard lights to warn the following traffic.

These new technologies mean that E-Class drivers can experience the most relaxed rides of their lives. Theoretically they could now catch up on their emails or read the newspaper while sitting behind the steering wheel. But the law still doesn’t allow this. However, people will still have plenty of time in stationary or stop-and-go traffic to think about how much progress is being made in autonomous driving and to look forward to how much freer they will be in future.