Mercedes-Benz DRIVE PILOT becomes first Level 3 autonomous driving system to be certified for US roads

Mercedes-Benz may be celebrating on the casino floor in Las Vegas right now – it has announced its DRIVE PILOT conditional autonomous driving system has been authorized for use on public roads, beginning in Nevada. DRIVE PILOT now sits as the only SAE Level 3 system in a production EV certified for operation as Mercedes looks to expand further west this year.

Mercedes-Benz’s DRIVE PILOT first arrived on roads in Germany in May of 2022. Before then, however, we got a chance to experience Mercedes’ “DISTRONIC Active Distance Assist,” which builds upon the Level 2 autonomy the German automaker has been delivering for years. DISTRONIC ensures the vehicle maintains a preselected distance from the vehicle in front of it while also maintaining other assist features like lane keep and active steering.

This Level 2 form of autonomous driving requires the Mercedes driver to keep their hands on the wheel, but that is not the case for its Level 3 DRIVE PILOT technology. DRIVE PILOT builds upon the existing surround sensors of the Driving Assistance Package in an EQS, for example, but utilizes additional sensors, including LiDAR and a camera in the rear window. Additionally, DRIVE PILOT uses microphones to detect approaching emergency vehicles and a road wetness sensor in the wheel well.

Add redundant steering, braking actuators, and onboard electrical system, and any Mercedes vehicle with DRIVE PILOT is secure in safely handing control back over to the driver should any one system fail. Human safety is something Mercedes-Benz preaches regularly when discussing its autonomous technology, and it stands by its work.

Hence why the German automaker is the first authorized to operate SAE Level 3 autonomous driving in the US.

Mercedes DRIVE PILOT autonomous driving approved in NV

According to Mercedes-Benz, its DRIVE PILOT conditional driving system complies with the requirements of Nevada Chapter 482A for Autonomous Vehicles and is now authorized to allow drivers to hand over driving to the vehicle (under certain conditions, of course). For example, DRIVE PILOT is currently only authorized to operate at speeds up to 40 mph.

Other automakers like Tesla have their own levels of autonomous driving assistance. There’s also Ford BlueCruise, not to be confused with GM’s Super Cruise. However, where Mercedes-Benz now leads in achieving SAE Level 3 authorization for autonomous driving is the fact that when DRIVE PILOT is engaged and the driver has their hands off the wheel, the vehicle is liable for anything that happens.

No other automaker in the US can say that right now – their drivers are still ultimately at fault should an accident occur. Even if the Mercedes driver fails to take back control of the EV after increasingly urgent prompting (perhaps due to a severe health issue, for instance), the system will automatically bring the vehicle to a stop while triggering its hazard lights. Once stopped, the car will even activate the Mercedes-Benz emergency call system and unlock the doors for first responders.

We’re going to give Markus Schäfer’s title its own paragraph because it’s that long. Schäfer, member of the Board of Management of Mercedes-Benz Group AG and chief technology officer responsible for development and procurement, spoke to DRIVE PILOT’s recent certification in Nevada:

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. 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. DRIVE PILOT demonstrates once more that our pioneering spirit is part of our DNA. Certification in Nevada marks the start of its international rollout and, with it, the dawning of a new era.

Looking ahead, Mercedes-Benz has already filed certification documents for SAE Level 3 autonomous driving in California and hopes to receive approval later this year. DRIVE PILOT will debut in the US market on the 2024 versions of the S-Class and EQS sedans, with first deliveries expected in the second half of this year.

Check out DRIVE PILOT in action below:

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