Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz has introduced new autonomous driving technology with its new E-class, unveiled on the eve of the Detroit show.

Drive Pilot, part of an optional driver assistance package claimed to “make the E-Class the most intelligent saloon in its class”, includes an Active Lane-change Assistant, a radar- and camera-based assistance system for changing lanes on multi-lane roads which can steer the vehicle into the lane selected by the driver – when overtaking, for example. Once the driver has indicated to turn for at least two seconds, the system assists with steering into the adjacent lane if it detects that the lane is unoccupied.

Distance Pilot Distronic, for use on motorways and country roads, keeps the car the correct distance behind vehicles in front automatically and can also follow them at a speed of up to 210km/h for the first time. This can make life easier for the driver, who no longer needs to operate the brake or accelerator pedal during normal driving and also receives plenty of steering assistance from the steering pilot – even on moderate bends.

Another claimed unique feature at speeds up to 130km/h is the fact that the system can continue to intervene actively by taking account of surrounding vehicles and parallel structures, even if the lines are unclear or non-existent, like at road works. The system therefore makes driving much easier, especially in traffic jams or heavy congestion. Another feature that helps to relieve the workload on the driver in such situations is the extended restart function, which allows automatic starting of the vehicle within 30 seconds following a stop initiated by the Distance Pilot on motorways or similar roads.

The selectable Speed Limit Pilot subfunction can now autonomously adjust the vehicle’s speed in response to camera-detected speed limits or speed limits logged in the navigation system, say 50km/h in built-up areas or 100km/h on country roads. Additional Drive Pilot innovations include, for the first time, Active Brake Assist with cross-traffic function, now with extended speed thresholds with respect to vehicles and pedestrians. It can detect crossing traffic at junctions and, if the driver fails to respond, apply the brakes autonomously. For the first time, it can also detect hazardous situations at the tail end of traffic jams where there is no room to manoeuvre and initiate autonomous braking far sooner in such situations. Consequently, it is possible to completely avoid accidents at speeds up to 100 km/h or substantially reduce the severity of accidents at speeds above this level, Daimler claims.

Evasive Steering Assist complements the pedestrian detection function of Active Brake Assist. When the driver deliberately or instinctively performs an evasive manoeuvre in a dangerous situation, this function can assist by adding precisely calculated steering torque to support the movement of the steering wheel. This helps the driver to avoid the pedestrian in a controlled manner while subsequently facilitating the straightening-up of the vehicle to allow the situation to be negotiated safely.

Other proven systems in the assistance package have been further developed in terms of their mode of operation and the sensors they use.

Active Lane Keeping Assist can help stop the driver from unintentionally changing lane, this being done by corrective one-sided application of the brakes, including in the case of broken lines and risk of collision, e.g. with oncoming traffic or fast overtaking vehicles. Active Blind Spot Assist can now also warn of the risk of a lateral collision in typical urban traffic at low speeds and, as before, correctively intervene at the last moment to prevent a collision at speeds above 30 km/h.

Other new features includes Remote Parking Pilot, as introduced recently by BMW with its redesigned tech flasghip 7 Series. This allows the vehicle to be moved into and out of garages and parking spaces remotely using a smartphone app, enabling the occupants to get into and out of the car easily, even if space is very tight.

Car-to-X communication, previously a retrofit option, is now fullly integrated in production. The mobile phone-supported exchange of information with other vehicles further ahead on the road, for example, can effectively allow the driver to “see around corners” or “through obstacles” well in advance. This means that the driver receives an earlier warning than previously in the event of imminent danger, such as a broken down vehicle at the edge of the road or also in the event of heavy rain or black ice on the road ahead. In this case the car simultaneously acts as a receiver and a transmitter, since warning messages are conveyed automatically by evaluating vehicle statuses or manually by the driver to the back end.

Pre-Safe impulse side: This system is part of the Driving Assistance package Plus. If a lateral collision has been detected and is imminent, it moves the driver or front passenger away from the danger zone in a sideways direction by way of precaution. To do this, the system inflates an air chamber in the side bolster of the front seat backrest nearest the side of the imminent impact in a fraction of a second, thus increasing the distance between occupant and door and, at the same time, reducing the forces acting on the occupants.

Pre-Safe Sound: This system is based on a human reflex in the inner ear, called the stapedius reflex, and emits a short interference signal through the vehicle’s sound system if the risk of a collision is detected. This signal can trigger the natural reflex and thus prepare the occupants’ ears for the expected sound of the accident.

High-resolution multibeam LED headlamps, each with 84 individually controlled high-performance LEDs, allows the light distribution of the left and right headlamps to be controlled separately and adapted to the changing situation on the road. All functions of the Intelligent Light System in low-beam and high-beam mode can be depicted purely digitally and without mechanical actuators for the first time, including, as a claimed world first, a purely electronically implemented active light function.

A Digital Vehicle Key drive authorisation system uses Near Field Communication (NFC) technology and allows the driver’s smartphone to be used as a vehicle key.