Mercedes‑Benz announced that its DRIVE PILOT system for SAE Level 3 conditionally automated driving received certification from California state authorities. With this milestone, Mercedes-Benz is the first car manufacturer with authorization to introduce such a SAE Level 3 system in a standard-production vehicle for use on public freeways in the most populous state in the United States.
DRIVE PILOT will be available in the US market as an option for model year 2024 Mercedes‑Benz S-Class and EQS Sedan models, with the first cars delivered to customers in late 2023. The state of Nevada already confirmed the compliance of the system with state regulations in January 2023, and Mercedes‑Benz has the ambition to further expand availability of this system to additional markets in the future.
During a conditionally automated journey, DRIVE PILOT allows the driver to take their mind off the traffic and focus on certain secondary activities. When DRIVE PILOT is active, applications can be enabled on the vehicle’s integrated central display that are otherwise blocked while driving.
On suitable freeway sections and where there is high traffic density, DRIVE PILOT can offer to take over the dynamic driving task, up to speeds of 40 mph. The control buttons required for this are located on the steering wheel rim, on the left and right above the thumb recesses. Once conditions are suitable, the system indicates availability on the control buttons. When the driver activates DRIVE PILOT, the system controls the speed and distance, and effortlessly guides the vehicle within its lane. The route profile, events occurring on the route and traffic signs are correspondingly taken into consideration. The system also reacts to unexpected traffic situations and handles them independently through evasive maneuvers within the lane or by braking maneuvers for example.
If the driver fails to take back control even after increasingly urgent prompting and expiration of the takeover time (e.g., due to a severe health problem), the system brakes the vehicle to a standstill in a controlled manner while engaging the hazard warning lights. Once the vehicle has come to a standstill, the Mercedes‑Benz emergency call system is activated and the doors are unlocked to ensure the vehicle is accessible for first responders.
Redundancy as key enabler for safe operation. The top priority for Mercedes‑Benz when introducing any such system is safety, which includes high demands on operational reliability. DRIVE PILOT builds on the surround sensors of the Driver Assistance Package and comprises additional sensors that Mercedes‑Benz considers indispensable for safe conditionally automated driving. These include LiDAR, as well as a camera in the rear window and microphones for detecting emergency vehicles, as well as a road wetness sensor in the wheel well.
A vehicle equipped with the optional DRIVE PILOT system also has redundant steering and braking actuators and a redundant on-board electrical system, so that it remains maneuverable even if one of these systems fails and a safe handover to the driver can be ensured.
Mercedes-Benz is focusing on SAE Level 3 conditionally automated driving with the ultimate goal of driving at speeds of up to 80 mph (130 km/h) in its final iteration. Additional redundancy in sensing modalities will ensure that the system meets the highest Mercedes-Benz safety standards.