Mercedes robo-taxi service gets underway in California

Key Points
  • Vehicles in the trial will travel between West San Jose and downtown, according to Daimler. 
  • As technology develops, a range of firms are developing and testing technologies with self-driving capabilities.
Copyright Daimler

German automaker Mercedes-Benz and technology firm Bosch are trialing an automated ride-hailing service in San Jose, California.

In an announcement Monday Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, said that the app-based service would use Mercedes-Benz S-Class cars, adding that a safety driver would be on board to monitor the vehicle.

To start with, the service is only available to a small number of people from private organizations. The vehicles will travel between West San Jose and downtown, Daimler said, moving along San Carlos Street and Stevens Creek Boulevard.

"It's not just the automated vehicles that have to prove their mettle," Uwe Keller, who is head of autonomous driving at Mercedes Benz, said in a statement. "We also need proof that they can fit in as a piece of the urban mobility puzzle," Keller added. "We can test both these things in San Jose."

The two German firms have been partnering on autonomous driving since 2017. They say the ultimate aim is a "production-ready system" that can be used in different vehicle types.

Safety issues

During a panel discussion at last month's East Tech West conference in China, the CEO of self-driving start-up Pony.ai explained that autonomous driving in a "simple environment" was fairly easy but became hard to keep safe when other factors were in play.

"The reason autonomous driving is so hard is because all of us, right, we are sharing the same road with AI (artificial intelligence) and we are irrational at a lot of times," James Peng said.

"So, this is the task: where autonomous driving in a simple environment is fairly easy, it can be easily done, but if you're adding the irrationality of all the other vehicles, pedestrians, then it becomes very hard to keep it safe," he added.

As technology develops, a range of firms – many of them big players in the automotive industry – are developing and testing technologies with self-driving capabilities.

At the end of October the Volkswagen Group announced the creation of a subsidiary called Volkswagen Autonomy (VWAT), with the German car giant saying it planned to "make autonomous driving market-ready."

With offices in Munich and Wolfsburg, Volkswagen said that VWAT would aim to "bring a self-driving system… to market maturity." As well as its sites in Germany, Volkswagen said it also planned to establish companies in Silicon Valley and China in 2020 and 2021 respectively.