Daimler, the maker of Mercedes-Benz and Smart cars, has announced that it will start selling a self-driving car by 2020.
It is thought the car will be able to drive on its own in most situations but will still hand control back to the driver during difficult situations such as dealing with traffic lights.
The move could help Daimler regain its position as the leading luxury car market from its rival BMW.
‘We want to be the first to launch autonomous functions in production vehicles. You can be sure: we will accomplish that in this decade,’ said Daimler head of development Thomas Weber.
The technology featured at this week’s Frankfurt car show but won’t come to market for another 10 years.
The German car maker has been working on improving its driverless technology over the past few years and recently became the world’s first car manufacturer to demonstrate autonomous driving in rural and urban traffic.
Last month, a Mercedes Benz S 500 Intelligent Drive research vehicle, drove autonomously through a 100-kilometre-long route from Mannheim to Pforzheim in Germany.
The research vehicle was equipped with production-based sensors for the project. Developers taught the technology platform to know where it is, what it sees and how to react autonomously.
With the aid of its highly automated ‘Route Pilot’, the vehicle was able to negotiate its own way through dense urban and rural traffic.
The driverless S-Class was also able to deal with some difficult situations involving traffic lights, roundabouts, pedestrians, cyclists and trams.
Existing technology already partly automates driving to assist during, for instance, traffic jams, by maintaining a safe distance with the car in front.
In July, the UK government said it will allow driverless cars on public roads for the first time during trials to take place this year.
During the ground-breaking road tests, an expert will have to remain in the driving seat.
Scientists at Oxford University are working with Nissan in Sunderland to create ‘robotcars’ that can drive themselves independently using details of the road they are driving on stored in on-board software.
The Nissan self-drive Leaf electric car is controlled by an iPad, and the Oxford team behind it claim the technology could be installed in mainstream cars as a £60 option.
Cameras and lasers built into its chassis map a 3D model of its surroundings when it is driven manually, which is fed into a computer stored in the boot.
The car can then ‘remember’ routes. It prompts the driver via an iPad on the dashboard to engage the autopilot and, at a touch of the screen, the car assumes control.
A laser at the front scans 164ft ahead 13 times per second for obstacles, such as pedestrians, cyclists, or other cars in an 85-degree field of view.
If it senses an obstacle, it slows and comes to a controlled stop. The driver can tap the brake pedal to regain control of the vehicle from the computer.
Sweden’s Volvo, Vauxhall’s U.S. parent General Motors, and Germany’s Volkswagen are also working on the technology.