Mercedes-Benz DRIVE PILOT has captured the world’s first approval for ‘conditionally automated’ driving on German highways with its Level 3 system. The German automaker is the first internationally valid system, as it met the requirements of Global Automotive Regulation No. 157, which concerns the approval of vehicles with regards to Automated Lane-Keeping Systems.
Mercedes-Benz announced the accomplishment, calling it proof of the company’s “pioneering work in automated driving.” The German Federal Motor Transport Authority granted the approval.
“For many years, we have been working to realize our vision of automated driving. With this LiDAR-based system, we have developed an innovative technology for our vehicles that offers customers a unique, luxurious driving experience and gives them what matters most: time. With the approval of the authorities, we have now achieved a breakthrough: We are the first manufacturer to put conditionally automated driving into series production in Germany,” Member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG and Mercedes-Benz AG, Chief Technology Officer responsible for Development and Purchasing Markus Schäfer said.
DRIVE PILOT will first be available in Mercedes-Benz S-Class models in the first half of 2022. There will be initial limitations with the functionality’s ability, and drivers will only be able to drive at speeds of up to 60 km/h or 37 MPH on German highways. This will effectively limit the Level 3 system to operating in “heavy traffic or congested situations on suitable stretches of highway in Germany.” Regularly flowing traffic patterns at speeds that exceed the approved limits will require a normal driving operation.
Levels of autonomous driving have been outlined by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). Level 3 Autonomy does not require humans to perform the act of driving. However, of the three levels that allow hands-free driving, which are Levels 3, 4, and 5, Level 3 is the only category in which the driver must take over if the vehicle requests human intervention. Level 3 is effectively described as a “traffic jam chauffeur,” which would align with
“During the conditionally automated journey, DRIVE PILOT allows the driver to take their mind off the traffic and focus on certain secondary activities, be it communicating with colleagues via In-Car Office, surfing the internet, or relaxing while watching a film. In DRIVE PILOT mode, applications can be enabled on the vehicle’s integrated central display that are otherwise blocked while driving,” the automaker wrote.
The system will initially be available on 8,197 miles or 13,191 kilometers of German highway. Mercedes-Benz said that it is working on completing extensive test drives in other markets, including the U.S. and China, so that it can launch DRIVE PILOT in countries outside of Germany.
DRIVE PILOT uses a LiDAR-based system for operation, but it also has a camera in the rear window and a microphone, which will both be used to detect approaching emergency vehicles by recognizing flashing blue lights and sirens. There is also a moisture sensor in the wheel well, used for detecting slippery or wet driving conditions. A digital HD map will transmit information regarding road geometry, route profile, traffic signs, and unusual traffic events, including accidents or road work, to DRIVE PILOT, helping it make informed and logical decisions throughout the vehicle’s operation.
Mercedes-Benz also said that it has implemented a safety system that will inform the driver of when the vehicle needs to be back in the control of a human. If the driver fails to take back control of the car for any reason, including medical emergencies, the vehicle’s braking system will bring the car to a stop in a controlled manner while also activating hazard lights. Mercedes-Benz has an emergency call system, which will automatically contact first responders, and the vehicle’s doors and windows will unlock for easier access for first responders.
Mercedes-Benz has been working to get DRIVE PILOT approved by regulators since mid-2021.