It’s a huge deal for Mercedes and a result of a year’s hard work going through the DMV approval procedure. The company released its Drive Pilot function in Europe last year and it was approved in Germany for use on about 8,080 miles of highways, then earlier this year Nevada approved the software for use on its highways. The approval from California DMV is bound to be followed by many more states.
Unlike many other autonomous driving systems, Mercedes’ Drive Pilot is a true Level 3 system. While GM’s Super Cruise or Ford’s BlueCruise allows the driver to take the hands off the wheel, the driver has to pay constant attention to the road. Both systems monitor the driver, and as soon as their eyes are not peeled to the road, they issue warning and in some situations, disengage.
The Drive Pilot takes the autonomous drive a step further. Drivers can not only take their hands off the wheel but are allowed to do other things - talk to passengers while facing them, use the car’s infotainment to watch a movie or play a game - reading a book or news while driving is going to become a more common sight from now on. The vehicle still monitors the driver and requires them to pay attention, the only no-no is sleeping or attempting to cover up the face to hide it from the car’s cameras. In that instance, the vehicle will fire a warning and request the driver to take over.
While the Drive Pilot is approved in Germany to drive on highways with speeds of up to 37 mph and in heavy traffic situations, its US approval puts the limit at 40 mph. California DMV issued additional restrictions - drivers won’t be allowed to use the system on city or county roads, in construction zones, during heavy rain or heavy fog, on flooded roads, or during extreme weather conditions.
Initially, this may sound unimpressive, and many people will argue that Tesla’s FSD appears to be superior - after all, it drives on its own around towns and at highway speeds. Yes, it does all that but at the driver’s own risk. FSD is only a Level 2 system, and although highly capable and constantly being improved, it lacks one major factor.
Should the car get in an accident with the FSD engaged, the driver takes responsibility for using a system that’s neither authorized for autonomous driving nor fully capable of it. Mercedes Drive Pilot, once engaged, takes full responsibility for its actions - as long as the driver follows the rules. That is a huge difference. With Nevada and California first to approve it, we are sure to see more states follow.
Mercedes Drive Pilot uses a combination of LiDAR sensors, long-range radar, and multi-mode radar, it combines that data with the view from its multiple cameras to provide the system with full situational awareness. Both the steering system and brakes have redundancy built-in to counter any possible scenarios. The system is available for the Mercedes EQS at $7,970 and for the latest Mercedes S-Class at a slightly lower price of $5,400.