Mercedes is the first automaker in the world to achieve SAE Level 3 certification for its Drive Pilot autonomous driving system. The system will be available towards the end of 2023 in California and Nevada on a limited series of Mercedes EQS.
There has been a lot of talk in recent years about introducing Level 3 autonomous driving. Audi was the first manufacturer to develop this system for the A8 but failed to get it approved for series production. Mercedes did it instead with the Drive Pilot system. It was first homologated in Germany by the Federal Transport Authority, and now the system has also received SAE Level 3 certification for the U.S market. It is the first autonomous driving system in the world to receive SAE Level 3 certification.
The Drive Pilot Level 3 autonomous driving system will be offered on a limited run of the EQS limousine later this year. Subsequently, the Drive Pilot system will be offered on the MY2024 EQS Sedan and S-Class, and deliveries will follow in early 2024 through authorized Mercedes dealers in California and Nevada. Drive Pilot will operate on a subscription basis through U.S. Mercedes me connect for the S-Class and EQS.
How does Drive Pilot work?
The technology uses the sensors of all currently available assistance systems at its core, complemented by a lidar radar placed in the radiator grille (a kind of three-dimensional laser scanner), a highly accurate positioning system, a camera in the rear window, plus microphones to detect blue lights and other special emergency vehicle signals, and a moisture sensor in the wheel wells. In addition, an HD map provides information on road geometry, route properties, traffic signs, and special traffic incidents (e.g. accidents or road works).
Like other assistance systems, Drive Pilot does not work in fog, rain, or heavy snow. It works only on motorways, does not change lanes at speeds above 64 kph (40 mph), only during daylight hours, not in tunnels or roadworks areas, and only in temperatures above 3 degrees Celsius. The system must also recognize a vehicle in front that is traveling no faster than 64 kph (40 mph).
Other drivers can tell if a Mercedes EQS or S-Class has Drive Pilot engaged because Mercedes has developed special turquoise-colored Automated Driving Marker Lights (based on SAE J3134 Recommended Practice) that would identify when Drive Pilot is engaged. There is no national regulatory framework in the U.S. to implement this technology for the moment.
When the Drive Pilot system is activated, the display in front of the driver shows the vehicle ahead in a white circle next to the large letter A. In addition, an LED illuminates above the Drive Pilot controls, which are located in the upper half of the steering wheel. These controls are easy to operate with thumbs. You press, and the color changes to turquoise-green. Now, you can take your hands off the wheel and your eyes off the road.
Everything is allowed. You can check your emails, watch TV, play mime, or – completely insane – talk to your passengers and look at them at the same time. The Mercedes EQS drives itself without sudden steering movements or loss of orientation. For safety, the system only works as long as the dashcam recognizes the driver’s eyes. If you put your hand to your eyes, Drive Pilot reacts and warns you. It beeps, a red light flashes, and gives you a few seconds to take control. If you don’t, the technology will initiate a shutdown process and make an emergency call. On the plus side, the Drive Pilot system can be turned off whenever the driver wants.
For now, the system is very expensive, being activated through U.S. Mercedes me connect at a price starting at $2,500 (additional offer options will be announced at a later date). If the driver moves to another U.S. state where the system is not authorized, the driver can cancel the subscription.