While the auto industry wrestles with the semantics of self-driving and the technical shortcomings of systems that claim to take the place of the driver, it is reassuring to experience a technology that demonstrates useful advances without over-promising on its capabilities.
The Mercedes-Benz GLS full-size SUV features an adaptive cruise control system that demonstrates an awareness of the situation that shows that cars are getting smart enough to respond like a human driver to some limited situations.
Full automotive autonomy is currently out of reach, but the GLS can autonomously modulate the vehicle’s speed according to the circumstances. We put the system to a stringent test and found its’ capabilities are outstanding.
A drive on Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park can be challenging. The speed limit is a low 35 mph because of the need to avoid collisions with wildlife and the presence of pedestrians and cyclists. Cruise control is a good idea here to help drivers avoid inadvertently gaining speed on long straight sections and downhill portions.
However, the road twists its way along the spine of the Blue Ridge mountains, so there are many tight hairpin turns. The car needs to slow well below 35 mph to negotiate these turns comfortably. Sure, you could go full World Rally Championship drift mode and take these turns without slowing down, but your passengers’ stomachs might object.
But the smart Mercedes adaptive cruise control uses information about the road to speed up and slow down as needed for a comfortable cruise through the park at safe and legal speeds. The system has access to the car’s navigational data, so it knows when the turns are approaching.
The result is vastly superior to other such systems, exactly as we might expect from a company with Mercedes’ reputation for technical prowess. Asked for some information on the system’s function, spokesperson Ashley Gillam told Design News, “In our current models we have more than 11 million kilometers experience exclusively testing of ADAS functions worldwide.”
“With this, there's a driving simulation test to research how people react in various situations,” she continued. “There is also an early testing phase with professional drivers on real roads and a customer-oriented driving test.”
That gives the car’s adaptive cruise control a solid baseline, but the crucial data also gets regular updates to ensure its accuracy. “All of these insights are taken into account and implemented for the final application. The quality of map data is also a key factor to validate for the system, with over-the-air updates available to ensure we have the latest version running.”
That information also goes to the car’s active suspension system, which adjusts based on the anticipated road conditions.
The 48-volt Active Body Control system can individually control spring and damping forces at each wheel, suppressing rolling, pitching, and lifting movements. The Road Surface Scan system’s stereoscopic cameras look ahead for any bumps, letting the suspension prepare to absorb impacts.
Road comfort on winding mountain roads through national parks is also supported by the car’s ability to squelch roll, squat, or pitch motions. In fact, in Curve mode, the GLS can even lean into the turns by 3 degrees, helping occupants avoid being thrown to the outside in the tight corners.
The resulting feeling is of a car that knows what to expect, so it delivers an intelligent and comfortable cruise. Which is perfect for visiting parks when you don’t want to have any unfortunate interactions with wildlife or park rangers.