Mercedes-Benz has announced that it will become the first automaker to launch ‘Level 3’ self-driving in the US, beating rivals like Tesla to the milestone.
The Drive Pilot feature is a step up from “hands-free” Level 2 systems, as it allows drivers to take their eyes off the road and perform other tasks like playing video games, the German car manufacturer said.
Mercedes said that it had self-certified in Nevada to use the Level 3 software for its 2024 S-Class and EQS Sedan models under certain conditions. The first vehicles featuring this capability will be delivered to customers later this year.
The certification in Nevada marks “the start of [Drive Pilot’s] international rollout” and “the dawning of a new era”, Mercedes-Benz said in a press release announcing the feature.
“In the modern world, time is one of the most precious commodities, and giving back time to our customers is a core element in our strategy to build the world’s most desirable cars,” said Markus Schäfer, chief technology officer of Mercedes-Benz Group AG.
“Our Drive Pilot takes a major step forward in achieving that, and places us at the very forefront of innovation in the crucially important field of automated driving.”
The AI controls can be enabled on “suitable freeway sections” where there is high traffic density, Mercedes said, but only up to the speed of 40mph (64 km/h).
Motor journalists testing the system late last year for The Drive described the experience as “like hiring a trained chauffeur that only works under very specific conditions”.
Despite the limitations, the technology is the first of its kind to be publicly available in the US, and brings the prospect of a full self-driving vehicle closer to reality.
The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) classes Level 3, or ‘Conditional Automation’, as a system that “actively performs driving tasks while [the] driver remains available to take over”.
The five-tier classification guidelines puts it below ‘High Automation’ Level 4 and ‘Full Automation’ Level 5.
Level 5 is described by industry watchers as the “holy grail” of self-driving cars, allowing all vehicle occupants to be passengers.
“When engaged, the system handles all driving tasks while you, now the passenger, are not needed to manoeuvre the vehicle,” NHTSA’s guidelines state.
“The system can operate the vehicle universally – under all conditions and on all roadways. A human driver is not needed to operate the vehicle.”
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