At this year’s CES, Mercedes-Benz announced that it had applied for use of its Level 3 autonomous driving program — dubbed Drive Pilot — in the states of California and Nevada. Today, Nevada began allowing Drive Pilot-equipped Mercedes models to use the hands-free driving technology within its limits. Nevada will be the first US state to allow Level 3 autonomous driving with everyday consumers behind the wheel. (On the commercial front, mobility company Motive already runs self-driving taxis in Las Vegas, even though the vehicle requires the person with the driver to take control.) And Mercedes has also revealed which vehicles will be driven by the pilot. Will be the first to be offered, along with the 2024 Mercedes-Benz S-Class and EQS.
What is Level 3 Automated Driving?
Backing up a bit – what exactly is Level 3 Automated Driving? The Society of Automotive Engineers describes different levels of driving automation, ranging from Level 0, which incorporates basic safety systems such as blind-spot warning and automatic emergency braking, to Level 5, where a vehicle drives itself in all conditions. .
The biggest jump between levels is between levels 2 and 3 in terms of driver attention required. Even the most advanced publicly available systems, such as GM’s Super Cruise or Ford’s BlueCruise, are sophisticated Level 2 systems, allowing hands-free driving only on certain roads and in certain conditions. The driver must be fully engaged and aware of the surroundings and must be able to take the wheel when necessary.
In the situations in which it is permitted to operate, Level 3 automation does not require the driver to be actively involved in the process of driving. The driver doesn’t have to look at the road and is free to interact with passengers, use the phone or connect to the infotainment system.
The move to partially remove the driver from the equation is a huge hurdle to overcome from both a technical and a legal point of view. We’re sure one of the reasons the technology is just being introduced is that Mercedes has claimed it will be liable if the system is engaged if an accident occurs.
Where can I use Drive Pilot and which cars will have it?
As announced today, Nevada will be the first state to allow individuals to use Drive Pilot within its borders. Since the use of GPS is a primary component that allows Drive Pilot to function, we can assume that Nevada will be geofenced for this technology. In other words, as soon as you enter any state that borders Nevada, Drive Pilot will likely stop working (unless, presumably, those states also move to Drive Pilot activation).
Another key component of Drive Pilot use, at least initially, is that the system will only operate up to 40 mph. Above that threshold, the system will disengage and the driver must resume control of the vehicle, although Level 2 support is still available via adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assist functions. So even though you won’t be able to watch movies while you cruise the highway – yet – you can still count on those systems to help make driving easier.
DrivePilot will be available this fall for the 2024 Mercedes-Benz S-Class and EQS sedans. No word yet on how much the hardware will cost or what the subscription fees, if any, will be.