Following extensive closed-course testing, Mercedes-Benz, one of Daimler's best-known brands, now has permission to begin road tests on real city streets, and the company announced it is working with local partners to adapt its advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) technologies to Beijing's "unique" traffic environment.
A vehicle with high automation -- Level 4 -- can operate independently in specific environments such as urban environments or motorways without any driver intervention.
To qualify for the license, Mercedes vehicles were equipped with additional technical applications from Baidu's open source Apollo autonomous driving platform, and the company undertook additional vehicle testing on closed tracks in Beijing and Hebei.
"Autonomous driving is a key pillar of our global strategy, and today's announcement marks a major step forward for our innovation efforts here in China," Hubertus Troska, member of the board of management of Daimler AG, responsible for Greater China, wrote in a statement.
Daimler's local research and development efforts began in 2005 with the first localized Mercedes-Benz E-Class vehicles, and within a decade the Mercedes-Benz Research and Development China Center in Beijing was opened.
Since 2012, Daimler and China's Tsinghua University have supported research projects related to sustainable transportation in a China-specific road environment through joint efforts at the Research Center for Sustainable Transportation.
One of the major potential benefits of self-driving vehicles is their ability to mitigate the effects of traffic jams -- an alluring prospect in Beijing, which boasts the second-worst traffic in the country.
Ford and Vanderbilt University recently completed a series of tests showcasing the benefits of adaptive cruise control (ACC), a technology that could reduce the number of "phantom" traffic jams caused by human error alone.
In March, Daimler announced it has bought a 4% stake in Beijing Electric Vehicle, a subsidiary of BAIC Group, to help it better understand Chinese market opportunities for new energy vehicles (NEVs).
Fellow German automaker BMW is also accelerating investment in China with the opening of the Shanghai Research & Development Centre, comprising four departments focusing on future mobility trends and design, including a connected and automated driving lab.
In May, BMW became the first OEM to obtain an autonomous driving road testing license in China, with the company boasting about 125,000 miles of simulated testing and nearly 18,500 miles of road testing in China as of June.
The connected and autonomous driving lab in Shanghai will develop self-driving vehicle applications and technology for China based on customer requirements and government regulations.
The company also announced BMW Connected and Baidu Internet of Vehicles would work together on home-to-vehicle technology with a service enabling customers to access vehicle information by voice control and operate certain vehicle functions from their homes.
Autonomous vehicle sales in the US, China and Europe will account for approximately 27 million of those 33 million annual sales, according to a January report from research firm IHS.
China is expected to be the leader in total volume at 14.5 million units, which is influenced by the fact that its population could top 1.5 billion people by 2040.
— Nathan Eddy is a filmmaker and freelance journalist based in Berlin. Follow him on Twitter @dropdeaded209_LR.