Despite the names and capabilities of the advanced driver-assist systems offered by many automakers, no system offered in a production vehicle has qualified for Level 3 self-driving capability, according to the SAE's rules. That's about to change, as on Thursday Mercedes-Benz announced that the 2024 S-Class and EQS sedans will feature Drive Pilot, a Level 3 system that will be capable of operating legally in Nevada beginning in the second half of this year.
To qualify as a Level 3 system by the SAE's definition, a system "can drive the vehicle under limited conditions and will not operate unless all conditions are met." The definition also states that the driver is "not driving the vehicle when these automated driving features are engaged" even if they are in the driver's seat. However, the driver must be ready to take over control when the conditions for the system to work are not met or when the system requests it.
Mercedes said Drive Pilot has met the requirements of Nevada Chapter 482A for Autonomous Vehicles, and it hopes to make the system available in California later this year. Meanwhile, Tesla's Full-Self Driving feature, which doesn't qualify as Level 3, may soon be illegal in California.
Drive Pilot will work on the freeway in high-traffic situations at speeds up to 40 mph. It will be able to take control of the speed, the distance from vehicles ahead, and keep the vehicle in its lane. It will automatically react to traffic signs and traffic occurrences on the route, Mercedes says.
The system is engaged by buttons on the steering wheel, and these buttons will indicate when the system is available for use. If the driver fails to take control when the system requests it, it will pull the vehicle over in its lane, turn on the hazard lights, unlock the doors, and activate its emergency call system.
On top of the sensors already built into vehicles with the Driving Assistance Package, Drive Pilot adds a lidar sensor, a camera in the rear window, microphones to detect emergency vehicles, a road wetness sensor in the wheel well, and redundant steering and braking actuators, as well as a redundant on-board electrical system. The system also uses a global positioning system that is precise to the centimeter instead of the meter as in other mapping systems. A high-definition digital map provides a 3D image of the road geometry, the surroundings, route characteristics, traffic signs, and traffic events. This map is provided and constantly updated by a backend connection, and the data from other Drive Pilot vehicles updates it.
Mercedes says Drive Pilot gives time back to its drivers. When the system is active, applications on the center touchscreen that are normally blocked when driving can be enabled.
This is the first application of a Level 3 system in the U.S., but it's been available in Germany since last May. Mercedes has not provided a price for Drive Pilot.