The system allows drivers to hand over control to the vehicle and not monitor the road full time on certain roads and at certain speeds.
Mercedes has rolled out its Drive Pilot system in two of its models in Germany, kicking off sales of its SAE Level 3 system that is expected to pose a serious challenge to Tesla's Autopilot and Full Self-Driving, which are both considered SAE Level 2 systems. Drive Pilot will offer users the ability to take their eyes off the road and hands off the steering wheel for prolonged periods of time, allowing them to read, text, or watch videos, until the system signals the driver to reassume control.
At the moment the Level 3 system is confined to certain roads in Germany, and a top speed of 60 kph, or 37 mph, which means it's currently restricted to situations with slow-moving traffic, but its functionality is expected to be expanded in the future. The automaker is currently working on certification in the states of California and Nevada.
"Mercedes-Benz is the first manufacturer to put a Level 3 system with international valid certification into series production," said Britta Seeger, member of the Board of Management of Mercedes‑Benz Group AG, responsible for marketing and sales. "As a first step, we are offering this world-leading technology in Germany in the S-Class and the EQS. At the same time, we also want to receive certification in the US by the end of the year."
Drive Pilot relies on radar, Lidar, cameras, ultrasound sensors, and moisture sensors to orient itself on the road, with Mercedes having taken the approach of employing several different kinds of sensors, as opposed to Tesla, which is moving in the direction of relying on cameras alone to provide driver-assist functions. Mercedes' Drive Pilot also relies on a three-dimensional HD map, calculated down to the centimeter, which is stored in backend data centers and is constantly updated.
"Responsible handling of future technologies such as conditional automated driving is the key to acceptance among customers and in society. With Drive Pilot, we have developed an innovative technology that, thanks to redundancies with many sensors, enables safe operation and gives the valuable asset 'time' back to the customer," Seeger adds.
In Germany, Drive Pilot will be offered in the S-Class at a price of €5000, or about $5270, and in the electric EQS flagship at a price of €7430, or about $7830.
Mercedes' rollout of Drive Pilot in Germany makes its one of the earliest Level 3 systems to arrive on the market, after Honda's own Level 3 system launched in Japan just over a year ago in the Legend sedan. A number of other automakers, including Polestar, are also getting ready for the launch of their own Level 3 systems.
It remains to be seen in just how many US states Mercedes will be able to offer Drive Pilot, and at up to what speeds, when the system arrives. The ability of drivers to use the system in the US is expected to be governed on a state-by-state basis, complicating matters somewhat, so the arrival of Drive Pilot will by no means be a nationwide launch. But it will be an important step for Mercedes, just as several automakers are getting ready to offer Level 3 functionality in several luxury models.