Mercedes-Benz has achieved a significant milestone by becoming the first automobile manufacturer authorized to sell Level 3 autonomous vehicles in California, as reported by Reuters. The California Department of Motor Vehicles has granted Mercedes-Benz a permit for their Drive Pilot system, allowing the sale or lease of vehicles equipped with Level 3 self-driving technology, which enables hands-off and eyes-off driving, but only on specific roads and under specific conditions. This certification follows a similar approval received by Mercedes-Benz in Nevada.
With the Drive Pilot system, Mercedes-Benz drivers will have the freedom to divert their attention from the road and relinquish control of the steering wheel, engaging in non-driving activities such as watching videos and sending text messages. However, adherence to the stipulated usage regulations is crucial, as Mercedes-Benz will assume legal responsibility for any accidents that may occur while the system is in operation.
To facilitate these capabilities, the Drive Pilot system relies on a range of sensors strategically installed throughout the vehicle, including visual cameras, LiDAR arrays, radar/ultrasound sensors, and audio microphones, which also remain vigilant for approaching emergency vehicles. Moreover, the system leverages onboard sensor and GPS data to accurately determine the vehicle’s precise location on the road.
While the Drive Pilot system represents a significant advancement in autonomous driving, it does not reach the level of sophistication exhibited by Waymo and Cruise vehicles, which possess fully autonomous capabilities without the need for a human driver on board. Nevertheless, it surpasses Tesla’s “Full Self-Driving” system, which operates at Level 2 autonomy and necessitates the driver’s constant attention and manual control of the steering wheel.
However, there are limitations to the utilization of the Drive Pilot system. It is restricted to high-traffic scenarios during daylight hours, with speeds capped at 40 MPH. Additionally, drivers must remain available to resume control, meaning they cannot recline in the back seat and sleep, for instance. The vehicle monitors the driver’s engagement through an in-car monitoring system, requiring the driver to take over if the vehicle exceeds 40 MPH, encounters an emergency vehicle, experiences rainfall, or encounters other situations that the Driver Pilot system cannot handle autonomously.
The Drive Pilot system will be initially available on the 2024 models of the S-Class and EQS Sedan, with deliveries scheduled for later this year. BuyTechBlog had the opportunity to test the system at Mercedes-Benz’s testing facility in Germany and witness its performance on roads in Los Angeles. According to BuyTechBlog contributor Roberto Baldwin, although the system functioned as intended, it was challenging to mentally disengage from the driving task while behind the wheel.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Level 3 self-driving vehicles
What is Level 3 self-driving technology?
Level 3 self-driving technology refers to a system that allows drivers to take their hands off the wheel and their eyes off the road under certain conditions. It enables them to engage in non-driving activities while the vehicle controls the driving functions.
Which automaker has received permission to sell Level 3 self-driving vehicles in California?
Mercedes-Benz is the first automaker to obtain permission from California regulators to sell or lease Level 3 self-driving vehicles in the state. The California Department of Motor Vehicles has issued a permit for their Drive Pilot system.
What are the conditions and limitations for using the Drive Pilot system?
The Drive Pilot system can be used on designated roads and under specific conditions. It is limited to high-traffic situations during daylight hours, with speeds under 40 MPH. Drivers must remain available to resume control in certain situations such as emergencies, rainfall, or when the vehicle exceeds 40 MPH.
How does the Drive Pilot system work?
The Drive Pilot system utilizes a combination of sensors, including visual cameras, LiDAR arrays, radar/ultrasound sensors, and audio microphones. These sensors help the vehicle monitor its surroundings and detect emergency vehicles. The system also relies on onboard sensor and GPS data to accurately determine the vehicle’s position on the road.
Is the Drive Pilot system as advanced as Waymo and Cruise’s autonomous systems?
No, the Drive Pilot system is not as advanced as the fully autonomous systems used by Waymo and Cruise. While it allows for hands-off and eyes-off driving, it still requires driver availability and has limitations on specific road conditions. It represents a step up from Tesla’s Level 2 system but falls short of full autonomy.
Which Mercedes-Benz models will have the Drive Pilot system?
The Drive Pilot system will be available on the 2024 models of the S-Class and EQS Sedan. Deliveries of these vehicles are scheduled for later this year.