SAN FRANCISCO -- The Concord Naval Weapons Station, where munitions were once loaded onto World War II ships bound for the Pacific Theater, hasn't seen much action since the Gulf War. Decommissioned in 2005, it's now a thinly trafficked hamlet, crisscrossed by nearly 20 miles of paved roads and dotted with grass-covered bunkers.
That's just the kind of environment Mercedes-Benz was looking for when it chose the Concord base, about 30 miles northeast of here, to serve as the proving ground for its experimental autonomous 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 the automaker's Silicon Valley r&d center, said in a statement this month.
Mercedes-Benz declined to share more information on its testing regimen. But the choice of the Concord site shows how much autonomous cars still have left to prove.
Companies such as Mercedes have refined their technology to the point where a car equipped with the right assortment of software, sensors and cameras can effectively drive and behave itself in predictable highway situations. But the bigger challenge will be urban driving, where the environment is more complex and the range of risks -- cyclists, stray dogs, children running into the street -- is greater.