Mercedes-Benz headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, will deploy a team of engineers to Australia in 2017 to begin collecting data for the advancement of its autonomous driving technologies, the company has confirmed.
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Speaking with CarAdvice this week, Mercedes-Benz Australia communications manager Jerry Stamoulis said that the work will focus on 'real-world' hands-on driving, using our unique mix of road conditions to improve the technology's capabilities.

"We'll announce exactly what we're doing in March, but it's a long-term plan with the vision of undertaking autonomous testing in Australia," Stamoulis said.

"We don't have an exact timeline just yet, but phase one will be collecting and testing some new data only. It won't be any autonomous testing just yet."

Stamoulis said that the testing will see specialised software added to a new E-Class sedan, which only recently launched in Australia with a comprehensive spread of autonomous driver-assistance technologies, to help with the testing. Some of the upgraded software will be drawn from an upcoming update to the larger S-Class.

"We'll be putting some software in the car, in the new E-Class, for example for the next (updated) S-Class. the testing may have already happened or happening in parallel in either Germany or the US," he said.

"We've got a really good mix of roads here, [and] that's what our engineers in Germany want, because it might throw up some sort of error that they haven't seen before.

"We won't be outlining just yet what the [data collection] vehicle will be equipped with, but we won't be changing it from Australian standards or anything along those lines. Phase one is data collection, testing things like how the radars and cameras are reacting - just as we do already around the world.

"The difference here, in Australia, is the huge range of variables that might give them new false positives to learn from, influencing data and development going forward."

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Above: extensive autonomous testing has already been carried out by Mercedes-Benz overseas

Unlike Tesla, the American electric vehicle company whose chief Elon Musk has spoken extensively on its advancements in autonomous tech, the Mercedes-Benz test vehicle will not include involvement from its customers.

The vehicle will be driven by 'regular' Mercedes-Benz staff - "they won't need any special skills", Stamoulis said - with the goal of covering a variety of road types and conditions around the country. "We'll be working to get as much data as possible".

"We've created a small team here with our own engineers that will work closely with the international team to help collate the data needed.

"If our international engineers like the way it's working here, if they get unique and different data from Australia, we can expect - later down the track - more testing that will head towards autonomous tech and we'll engage government more closely."

In its current form, the new E-Class includes a semi-autonomous Driver Assistance system which can allow for up to 60 seconds of hands-free 'cruise control' motoring - although display alerts and chimes will demand interaction well before that time is reached.

"There's a huge benefit to us, in the local market, to have this information and be across this data before the actual launch of a vehicle, because it helps us to understand the technology better and then communicate that to customers in a more effective way," Stamoulis said.

Elsewhere, Volvo confirmed in 2015 that it has undertaken research in Australia to develop the world's first kangaroo detection and avoidance technology, demonstrating a similar focus on improving its assistance systems by incorporating data specific to our maret.

2016-Mercedes-Benz-E-Class-8

And, just as it does overseas, Tesla uses data drawn from the daily driving of its customers to collect information on how its Autopilot system is used. Even when not actively in use, data is collected - with customer approval - on situations where Autopilot could have been an advantage or a detriment in safely guiding the car through traffic and hazards.

Earlier this year, the company claimed it had already collected over 800 million miles (1.28 billion kilometres) of driving data - 100 million miles of that being with Autopilot fully engaged - all going towards improving its autonomous technology.