Where Does One Field Test a Self-driving Car?

Where do you field test a self-driving car?  At a decommissioned weapons depot, silly rabbit.

All kidding aside, according to Automotive News, Mercedes Benz is taking the old Concord (CA) Naval Weapons Station out of mothballs in order to set up an environment to test self-driving cars.

“We can use the test site in Concord to run simulation tests with self-driving vehicles in a secure way, including specific hazardous situations,” Axel Gern, head of autonomous driving at Mercedes’ Silicon Valley research and development center.


Taking over a good portion of an old military base is one way to quickly create the basics of an urban experience.  The base has a grid of paved roads, some buildings, and the green light from the military to build out an urban environment.  Also it’s probably cheaper to execute than building an urban landscape from scratch–something the University of Michigan is doing at their new Mobility Transformation Center in Ann Arbor.

As we’ve reported before, self-driving car projects are moving forward.  Leading car companies are in various states of development.  Audi recently took an autonomous self-driving RS 7 racer for a loop around the Hockenhiem race track.  Sounds leisurely, until you understand that the lap was at racing speeds up to 150 mph.

Mercedes isn’t late to this party.  They’ve been incorporating elements of self-driving technology in their cars for the past few years.  They call it “Intelligent Drive” technology.

Regular people like you and I see crash tests, skid test, wind tunnel tests, etc.  We expect a certain amount of rigor in order to end up with a well-made and safe car.

Imagine the testing automakers are going to have to do in order for us to feel comfortable about putting our families into a self-driving vehicle.  The word “lots” is a monumental understatement.  Re-creating the dynamics of urban driving would be a nightmare, to me.  It’s more than adding buildings, traffic signals and signage, other moving vehicles, and some pedestrians.

It’s putting people in other cars that don’t pay attention, that don’t signal lane changes, that swoop to pass, that put on their makeup, or pick their noses, ALL while driving in excess of 30 miles an hour.  It’s testing for pedestrians that play cat-and-mouse in the middle of the street as well as in an intersection.

To me the completely unpredictable element of “the other guy” is the biggest strike against automated cars.  If there are protected, dedicated automated driving lanes, then I can see self-driving or similarly equipped cars zipping along in them.  Absent that, I see this technology taking humans to a very high level of assisted driving. Only.

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Sebastian James


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