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Mercedes-Benz to Test Its Robocar at Abandoned Naval Base

Decomissioned California naval base has a city-like grid but no pesky pedestrians

2 min read
Mercedes-Benz to Test Its Robocar at Abandoned Naval Base
Photo: Daniel Schwen/Wikipedia

Mercedes-Benz already has approval from the government of California to test self-driving cars on public roads under certain conditions.

But the automaker has been looking for a place to test its robocars where it can get around those “certain conditions” and have its robocars encounter things that might occur during normal driving but are difficult to replicate given the strictures of the state authorization. Late last week, the company reported that it has found just such a place.

Mercedes-Benz Research & Development North America and the Contra Costa (California) Transportation Authority  announced plans to begin testing autonomous vehicles at the Concord Naval Weapons Station in the city of Concord later this month. The partners see the now-shuttered naval base as an ideal site for trying out an array of new transportation technology, including smart infrastructure such as traffic signals that talk with cars. 

The 850-hectare Concord Naval Weapons Station has 31.5 kilometers of paved, citylike roadways that are off limits to the public, making it the largest secure test bed site in the United States.

“We can use the test site in Concord, California, to run simulation tests with self-driving vehicles in a secure way, including specific hazardous situations,” said Axel Gern, head of autonomous driving at Mercedes R&D, in a press release. “Taken in conjunction with the results of our test drives on public roads, these tests will help us with the ongoing development of our autonomous cars.”

Mercedes-Benz has already wowed observers with the self-driving S-Class vehicle that drove without human intervention for the 100 kilometers between Mannheim and Pforzheim, Germany, as it replicated the first ever documented joy ride taken by Bertha Benz. But now the company can try to see just how much danger a robocar can be placed in and manage to reach its destination without a scratch. (This no doubt will include some of the stupid stunts that human “drivers” will dream up in order to see what feats a self-driving car is capable of.)

What’s in it for the local government? “The City of Concord is hopeful that use of the Concord Naval Weapons Station as a test bed hub in the region will attract high-tech jobs to our community and allow new technologies to be tested and researched,” said Tim Grayson, Mayor of the City of Concord, in a press release.

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We Need More Than Just Electric Vehicles

To decarbonize road transport we need to complement EVs with bikes, rail, city planning, and alternative energy

11 min read
A worker works on the frame of a car on an assembly line.

China has more EVs than any other country—but it also gets most of its electricity from coal.

VCG/Getty Images

EVs have finally come of age. The total cost of purchasing and driving one—the cost of ownership—has fallen nearly to parity with a typical gasoline-fueled car. Scientists and engineers have extended the range of EVs by cramming ever more energy into their batteries, and vehicle-charging networks have expanded in many countries. In the United States, for example, there are more than 49,000 public charging stations, and it is now possible to drive an EV from New York to California using public charging networks.

With all this, consumers and policymakers alike are hopeful that society will soon greatly reduce its carbon emissions by replacing today’s cars with electric vehicles. Indeed, adopting electric vehicles will go a long way in helping to improve environmental outcomes. But EVs come with important weaknesses, and so people shouldn’t count on them alone to do the job, even for the transportation sector.

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