Strategy and concepts
Opportunities and challenges
Fewer accidents, greater traffic safety: this is one of the aims that is accompanying the utilisation of automated and autonomous vehicle systems. The potential improvement of traffic safety is not the only benefit offered by automated driving systems. The technology can also enable efficient, resource-saving traffic and can also help to reduce emissions.
Automated driving systems can also make road freight transport safer, since most accidents in the road freight transport sector are likewise caused by human error. For example, automated driving systems can support drivers in demanding driving situations and on long, monotonous trips.
Despite all the benefits, care is required, because ethical and legal risks including data-protection risks must also be taken into account as automated driving systems are developed further. The Mercedes-Benz Group does this as early as the product development stage. An important consideration here is the responsible use of Artificial Intelligence (AI). AI as a component of self-driving vehicles is particularly important with regard to machine learning, since, among other things, it helps the system to quickly and reliably identify objects and situations in or next to the carriageway.
We are convinced that the only way we will be able to gain social acceptance for new technologies — and thus lay the foundation for a new age of mobility — is through the interaction of product safety features, legal standards, data protection, data protection legislation and ethical considerations.
Leading role in automated driving
The Mercedes-Benz Group seeks to play a leading role in the field of automated systems. In order to achieve this goal, equal emphasis must be placed on technical, legal and ethical aspects, and for this reason we are implementing data-protection principles and standards along the entire value chain in accordance with the “privacy by design” principle. We are also integrating societal and ethical considerations into conditionally automated and highly automated driving systems through the use of our “ethics by design” concept. We support the establishment at national and international levels of a reliable legal framework, technical standards and ethical guidelines relating to the use of the new technology. We also promote a broad-based public and political dialogue on the topic of automated driving.
The vision of the new S-Class from Mercedes-Benz shows how we are already putting our plans into action, as the DRIVE PILOT for conditional automation (SAE-Level 3) and the INTELLIGENT PARK PILOT for high automation and highly automated driverless parking (SAE-Level 4) are to be used for the first time in this model.
Uniform regulations and legal basis
New technologies require legal certainty. That’s why the Mercedes-Benz Group is a member of national and international bodies and associations that promote the establishment of consistent legal standards for automated driving. We seek to support the development of a uniform framework for automated driving systems — both for the associated technical certification and for legal certainty and compliance with all relevant laws when in operation.
In Germany, the legal basis for the use of automated driving systems is defined by the automated driving amendment to the German Road Traffic Act (StVG), which came into force in 2017 and allows for the use of conditionally automated driving systems (SAE-Level 3). We welcome this amendment because it makes Germany one of the first countries to provide a legal basis for further technological developments.
A further amendment to the German Road Traffic Act was made with the adoption of the Act on Highly Automated Driving (SAE-Level 4) in July 2021. This act established a legal basis for both the technical certification of automated driving systems and the driverless operations of vehicles. In accordance with the amendments to the law, vehicles with automated driving functions must be equipped with technical systems that enable the vehicle to autonomously (i.e. without a driver) execute driving functions within a defined scope of operation.
We believe that applicable road traffic laws and regulations also need to be further developed in other countries, as this is the only way to ensure legal certainty for the use of conditionally automated and highly automated systems ( SAE-Level 3 and SAE-Level 4).
Several countries have in the meantime created legal frameworks or initiated legislative processes regarding the use of automated driving systems. If this technology is to be launched on the market, amendments have to be made to respective national traffic laws; measures will also have to be taken to make it possible to approve and register conditionally and highly automated driving systems for actual use on the road.
The Automated Lane Keeping System (ALKS) UN regulation came into force in January 2021. In conjunction with the amended German Road Traffic Act, the regulation will make it possible to launch initial conditionally automated systems for use in traffic jam situations on motorways in Germany.
In order to enable the cross-border use of automated cars, international harmonisation of the relevant legal regulations will also be necessary. These should be as compatible as possible and include the same technological requirements. This also involves the issue of how the data needed to ensure the proper operation of automated driving systems should be handled. One example is the technical regulation of the data recorder for automated driving systems. This unit is subject to technical requirements specified in, for example, the UN’s ALKS regulation and is required by law for the operation of automated driving systems in Germany. Among other things, this device records when an automated system was activated and when the driver resumed manual control of the vehicle. In addition, experts within the EU are discussing the data collection principles that are also relevant for data storage during automated driving — an example of this is the Data Governance Act. In addition, a public consultation process on this issue is currently under way under the auspices of the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA), and the Mercedes-Benz Group is participating in this process. We support this effort and emphasise the importance and necessity of ensuring data security in such recording technologies.
Responsible product development
The development of automated driving systems presents special challenges. This is why the automotive divisions of Mercedes-Benz Cars & Vans make use of the instruments in our technical Compliance Management System (tCMS). Our objective is to identify risks within the product creation process (product development and certification) at an early stage and to implement preventive measures. The tCMS defines values, principles, structures and processes in order to provide our employees with guidance and orientation especially with regard to challenging questions on how to interpret technical regulations.
We have formulated specific guidelines for vehicle behaviour for conditionally and highly automated driving systems, for example. Complex questions in this area are examined and answered in an interdisciplinary process that takes technical, legal, ethical and certification criteria into account — for example with regard to the question as to which measures we use to assess our automated driving systems with respect to safety, as well as their compliance with traffic regulations. The tCMS units have decided, for example, that our automated driving systems should include the latest technology developments and that their reaction capabilities should be aligned with those of “exemplary drivers”. We understand “exemplary drivers” to refer to road users who are fit to drive and attentive, comply with all traffic regulations and do not behave in a grossly negligent manner. This recommendation has since been codified in an Automated Driving Guidance benchmark for the development of conditionally and highly automated driving systems.
If vehicles already in use by customers exhibit anomalies with regard to safety, conformity or emissions, our processes for evaluating and regulating such situations come into play. This can involve the implementation of specific customer service measures and, if necessary, vehicle recalls.
In addition to meeting the legal, certification-relevant and technical requirements we also comply with ethical principles and further internal rules and regulations such as the principles of our data vision and our AI principles for the responsible use of Artificial Intelligence systems. These principles and regulations are incorporated into the requirements for software applications and hardware components in relation to social aspects. The principles are based on our corporate values and have also been incorporated into our Integrity Code.
In addition, our product-development activities are guided by the German government’s Ethics Commission’s 20 ethical rules for automated and connected driving. We also take into account draft proposals and resolutions relating to planned regulations and standards, and thereby take account of the dynamic developments in the area of automated driving. Furthermore, we also comply with external guidelines such as those formulated by AI4People, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the High Level Expert Group on Artificial Intelligence (EU).
The Mercedes-Benz Group uses an integrated approach to answer the technical, social, ethical and legal questions relating to automated driving. The participants are an integrated team that includes experts from research and development, product safety and quality management — and also experts from the Integrity and Legal Affairs Board of Management division. The team works with engineers, legal advisors and specialists in data protection, compliance, social sciences and philosophy to assess the potential impact of new technical developments. It also increases awareness of complex social and legal issues and develops and implements new solutions. The topics addressed include the responsible use of data in programming processes and the possible changes to behaviour in urban environments that might be brought about by the use of new technologies. The objective of this approach is to increase both the safety and the acceptance of our products.
Among other things, the German Road Traffic Act (StVG) and the German Road Traffic Regulations (StVO) have been translated into a system language. This was necessary because although the fact that the German Road Traffic Act and the German Road Traffic Regulations essentially define the currently valid road regulations in Germany, most of their elements are not designed to be used as a template for programming technical systems. Group-wide cooperation on this issue has led to the formulation of special driving and system requirements that help us to ensure that our systems are able to comply with the various requirements relating to legal and ethical issues, product safety and certifications.
Comprehensive data protection is also important for ensuring public acceptance of automated driving systems. This is why we involve our data protection experts in our concept development processes at a very early stage. The goal here is to develop data-protection-friendly concepts in accordance with the privacy by design principle, which involves taking data protection aspects into account at an early stage of the design process. This aims to minimise data protection risks from the outset and avoids the need to add data protection measures later on. Basically, the idea is to develop attractive data-protection-friendly solutions that combine comfort, functionality and effective data protection. Privacy by design means focussing on the user and pursuing the goal of contributing to a good customer experience with the help of data protection features — for example by consistently applying principles such as transparency and self-determination.
We promote an open dialogue between business and consumer associations, government authorities, industry representatives and society at large, because we believe that a broad-based social discussion is a prerequisite for the acceptance of automated driving systems.
Since 2015, we have been using the annual Sustainability Dialogue to discuss ethical, legal and social questions that arise in connection with automated driving systems. The most recent Sustainability Dialogue took place as a digital event on 17 and 18 November 2021. Among other things, participants in the Traffic Safety working group at the event discussed traffic safety in cities in future and the role intelligent vehicles will play in infrastructure. All of them agreed that traffic safety remains one of the key central issues for the future orientation of our sustainable business strategy.
With regard to safety in cities in future, the participants defined two key focus areas that we plan to address together with governments, society and research in 2022.
- The needs and requirements relating to future mobility vary across different countries, cultures and population groups. It is therefore clear that a range of solutions will be needed to ensure safety in various cities around the world. With this in mind, our goal is to work with external stakeholders to identify possible country-specific features. We also plan to continue incorporating ethical and social aspects into our vehicle development activities.
- The participants in the working group also expressed their desire to see the Mercedes-Benz Group participate more extensively in the public debate on — and the development of solutions for — sustainable mobility and traffic safety in cities. We firmly believe that legal certainty is a fundamental prerequisite for the concrete implementation of mobility solutions. Here as well, we plan to work more closely and intensely with cities and research institutions in order to bring together various perspectives.
Involvement in committees and associations
The Mercedes-Benz Group is a member of numerous national and international committees and associations, including the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA), the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) and the working groups of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). Within the framework of these memberships, we participate in consultation processes regarding new legislation and share ideas and information with political decision-makers.
- In July 2021, the law on autonomous driving came into force in Germany. This new law enables the operation of vehicles with SAE-Level 4 automated systems. Within the framework of a VDA working group, we participated in the interdisciplinary discussions that were held prior to the passage of the new law. Our contribution here focussed on legal and certification aspects.
- At the end of April 2021, the European Commission published the world’s first regulation proposal to specifically address Artificial Intelligence (AI). Together with other OEMs, the Federation of German Industries (BDI) and the ACEA, we published a commentary on the draft of an associated Artificial Intelligence Act.
- The white paper Ethics and Artificial Intelligence was published in September 2020. Among other things, this white paper recommends the use of several assessment criteria to ensure that AI applications do not infringe upon human autonomy.
- The ideas outlined in the white paper with the title Safety First for Automated Driving (SaFAD) that we published in 2019 together with leading companies from the automotive and supplier industries continued to be incorporated into international standardisation processes. The twelve main principles presented in the white paper were used as a basis for the ISO Technical Report TR 4804, which we helped to produce and which was published in 2020. Plans now call for the principles to be described in further detail as ISO Technical Specification TS 5083.
- Since July 2019 we have been participating in the research association for Verification and Validation Methods for Automated Vehicles SAE-Level 4 and 5 (VVM). This association basically picks up where the Project for the establishment of generally accepted quality criteria, tools and methods as well as scenarios and situations (PEGASUS), which was funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, left off. PEGASUS was completed in 2019. The association has set itself the goal of developing systems and methods for the safety verification of highly automated and fully automated vehicles and driving functions.
- Since 2019 we have been participating in the ISO TC/241 WG6 through the DIN Standards Committee Road Vehicle Engineering mirror group. The topic of the working group is “The development of recommendations for ethical considerations in connection with autonomous vehicles”. The idea here is to firmly establish an ethical perspective in the development process for automated vehicle systems. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) plans to publish the recommendations in 2023.
- The Mercedes-Benz Group joined the Automated Vehicle Safety Consortium (AVSC) in April 2019. This consortium develops safety principles for automated driving, with a focus on safety tests before and during the use of automated vehicles, data processing and protection and the interaction between automated vehicles and other road users.
Automated driving systems will only be approved for road use if they can meet very stringent safety requirements. This is why the Mercedes-Benz Group is working hard to define the technical standards needed here. The results of the PEGASUS and VVM projects with regard to testing methods and the approval of automated driving were presented publicly on a regular basis — and this transparency is what makes it possible to conduct the necessary discussions with relevant stakeholders. We are still supporting the projects and will continue to do so. Our goal here is to derive standards for the safety verification of automated driving that are as globally uniform as possible, and which are accepted by as many countries as possible — for example within the framework of our activities in the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).
Effectiveness and results
The effectiveness of our management approach
The sound decisions made in our development projects form the foundation for ensuring the safety and technical compliance of our products. Many legal provisions and regulations are still being worked on for future developments in automated driving. Interdisciplinary expert and decision-making committees at Mercedes-Benz Cars & Vans always use existing legal requirements as a basis for defining the in-house requirements for the design of products that are used in automated driving systems.
In addition, all employees at the development departments can submit technical compliance questions to the responsible tCMS units, which then make their decisions within the framework of an interdisciplinary process. During the reporting year, the established tCMS units used this interdisciplinary process to deal with questions related to automated driving.
With the DRIVE PILOT, Mercedes-Benz is aiming to take the decisive step toward conditionally automated driving (SAE-Level 3). It plans to go a step further with the INTELLIGENT PARK PILOT in order to make highly automated driverless parking (SAE-Level 4) possible in the future. The sales release for the DRIVE PILOT in Germany is expected to be within the first half of 2022. This means Mercedes-Benz customers will then be able to turn the task of driving over to vehicle systems in a production model in certain situations. The EQS equipped with the DRIVE PILOT will also be launched in 2022.
Mercedes-Benz is the world’s first automaker to fulfil the demanding legal requirements of the internationally applicable UN Regulation 157 for a SAE-Level 3 system1. Germany’s Federal Motor Transport Authority (KBA) issued the system approval on the basis of technical approval regulation UN R157. In doing so, it has fundamentally enabled us to offer such a system internationally2, provided the respective national legislation allows this. Beginning in the second half of 2022, customers will probably be able to drive the Mercedes-Benz S-Class in conditionally automated mode on SAE-Level 3 with the DRIVE PILOT in congested traffic, or in traffic jams, on suitable motorway segments in Germany.
Mercedes-Benz is going a step further with parking, as the preinstallation for the INTELLIGENT PARK PILOT prepares the S-Class for driverless, highly automated parking (automated valet parking — AVP; SAE-Level 4). Together with the necessary optional equipment and the corresponding Connect service (country-dependent), certain variants of the new S-Class have the technology on board for highly automated parking and unparking without a driver in car parks equipped with AVP infrastructure3, provided the authorities have approved it for use.
1 SAE-Level 3: The automated driving system takes over certain driving tasks. However, a human driver is still needed. The driver must be able to take control of the vehicle whenever requested to do so by the system.
2 ECE signatory countries (57) including EU countries, the UK, Japan, Korea and Australia.
3 It only assists the driver to pull out of a parking space if it previously assisted the driver.