Mercedes-Benz has been granted regulatory approval in Germany for a new Drive Pilot Level 3 self-driving system, the automaker said on Thursday. The basis of the approval is the internationally valid UN Regulation 157 dealing with automated lane-keep systems, meaning Mercedes will be able to offer the system internationally, provided individual countries allow it.
On the SAE scale of self-driving capability, Level 3 denotes systems that allow drivers to take their hands off the wheel and eyes off the road in certain situations, but are far short of true autonomous driving as the driver still needs to be ready to take back control at any time. Mercedes said Drive Pilot will work in dense traffic on pre-mapped stretches of highway, at speeds up to 37 mph, with the system handling steering, acceleration, and braking.
With approval from the German Federal Motor Transport Authority (KBA) in hand, Mercedes plans to offer Drive Pilot on the S-Class sedan starting in the first half of 2022. Mercedes said regulatory approval also applies to the EQS electric hatch, but the automaker didn't say when the system would be available on that vehicle.
Mercedes-Benz Drive Pilot
The Road Traffic Act of 2017 created a legal framework for Level 3 systems in Germany, but the specific regulations that allowed Drive Pilot to be certified didn't come into force until the beginning of 2021, Mercedes noted.
Drive Pilot builds on the sensor suite from the S-Class' Driver Assistance Package, adding lidar, as well as a camera in the rear window and microphones designed to detect the lights and sirens from approaching emergency vehicles, Mercedes said. It also adds redundant steering, braking, and electrical systems, according to the automaker.
If the driver fails to take back control when prompted, the car will automatically slow to a stop, and activate its hazard lights, Mercedes said. Drive Pilot will also place an emergency call and unlock doors and windows to give first responders access in case of a health emergency, the automaker noted.
Mercedes-Benz Drive Pilot
Mercedes said it will initially offer Drive Pilot on 8,196 miles of highway in Germany. The automaker also said test drives are underway in the U.S. and China, but didn't discuss when Drive Pilot might be available in those markets.
Other automakers are beginning to roll out their own Level 3 systems. Honda launched its own version on the Legend sedan (formerly sold in the U.S. as the Acura RLX) in Japan earlier this year, after getting regulatory approval in that country.
BMW is also expected to launch a Level 3 system developed with Intel's Mobileye division on the next-generation 7 Series, and later expanding availability to the 5 Series, X5, X7, and iX electric SUV.