Mercedes-Benz is the first automotive company in the world to meet the demanding legal requirements for a level 3 system. Germany has taken a pioneering role in this with the opening of the Road Traffic Act of 2017 for level 3 systems. The result is that customers will be able to purchase an S-Class with Drive Pilot, which will enable them to drive in a conditionally automated mode of up to 37 mph or 60 kmh, in heavy traffic on suitable highways within Germany.
Before delving too much into what this entails, let’s talk a little about the different levels of autonomous driving and how important this achievement is. According to researchers, we might see up to 8 million semi-autonomous and autonomous vehicles on the road by 2025. According to the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), there are six levels of autonomous driving ranging from zero to five.
Level 0 (No Driving Assistance)
Humans provide the dynamic driving task although there may be systems in place to help the driver. A good example would be the ABS (emergency braking system), since it doesn’t drive the vehicle then it doesn’t qualify as automation. Most vehicles on the road today are level 0.
Level 1 (Driver Assistance)
The lowest level of automation, in which the vehicle features a single automated system to assist the driver in doing things like accelerating or steering. Such a system is adaptive cruise control which keeps the vehicle at a safe distance from the vehicles in front. This system qualifies as the driver has to monitor other aspects of the driving such as braking and steering.
Level 2 (Partial Driving Automation)
The vehicle can control both the acceleration/deceleration and the steering. The automation isn’t considered self-driving because a human is in control in the driver’s seat and can take control of the vehicle at any time. A good example of such systems is Tesla’s Autopilot and GM’s supercruise systems.
Level 3 (Conditional Driving Automation)
Technologically, the difference between level 2 and level 3 is quite substantial. Even though these vehicles still require human intervention and override, they can make informed decisions for themselves and have environmental detection capabilities.
Level 4 (High Driving Automation)
Level 4 vehicles do not require human interaction in most circumstances but a human still has the option of manual override. Due to infrastructure and legislation playing catchup, these vehicles are geofenced (must operate within a limited area). Most level 4 vehicles today are geared towards ridesharing, such as Waymo, Magna and NAVYA.
Level 5 (Full Driving Automation)
These vehicles do not require human attention and a person’s dynamic driving task is eliminated.
With Mercedes-Benz level 3 system in place, their Drive Pilot equipped vehicles will be able to take over the dynamic driving task but only under certain conditions. The technical approval for such a system came into force at the beginning of 2021. With the opening of the Road Traffic Act for level 3 systems, Germany was the first country to create a legal basis for the intended use of these systems.
Drive Pilot will be initially offered on 8,197 miles of highway in Germany. On suitable sections and where traffic is dense, the system can offer to take over the driving up to the legally permitted speed of 37 mph. The controls for the system are conveniently placed in the steering wheel. Once activated the system will control speed and distance, and will effortlessly guide the vehicle within its lane. The system also reacts to unexpected traffic situations and handles them independently.
Drive Pilot builds on the vehicle’s surround sensors and additional sensors such as LiDAR, a rear camera particularly for detecting blue lights and other signals from emergency vehicles, microphones and a moisture sensor in the wheel wells. A powerful central control unit and advanced GPS, and sensors ensure that once Drive Pilot is engaged the driver will be able to take their mind off the traffic and focus on other secondary activities such as communicating with colleagues through the in-car office, surfing the internet or even watching a movie.
Mercedes-Benz level 3 Drive Pilot system brings us one step closer to a fully autonomous self-driving future.