Mercedes-Benz Drive Pilot Self-Driving Tech Approved for Use

Mercedes-Benz Drive Pilot Self-Driving Tech Approved for Use

Green light from Germany, but there's a catch

  • Drive Pilot is a Level 3 conditionally automated driving technology for use at speeds up to 37 mph.
  • It allows drivers to concentrate on other tasks while commuting in traffic.
  • First such system granted approval for international sale, where the law allows — which means not yet for the U.S.
  • New Mercedes-Benz EQS and S-Class models are first to offer Drive Pilot.

According to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, the average American spends 54 hours per year stuck in traffic. In a major city known for brutal commutes, such as Los Angeles, that time more than doubles to 119 hours. Over the course of a 40-year career, you could spend nearly 200 days crawling along on the 405 freeway instead of texting with family and friends, watching movies or reading good books, or otherwise reclaiming what is a significant chunk of your life.

Mercedes-Benz now has part of the solution. Drive Pilot is the automaker's new conditionally automated Level 3 advanced driving assistance system (ADAS), and Germany has approved it for sale in global markets where this type of technology is legal. Just don't tell your boss that Drive Pilot makes something that Mercedes calls In-Car Office a reality.

What is Mercedes Drive Pilot?

Drive Pilot is a Level 3 ADAS providing conditionally automated self-driving capability only on approved roads and at speeds under 37 mph. Currently, Drive Pilot is approved for use on nearly 8,200 miles of German highways, and Mercedes is testing the system in China and the U.S. with plans to offer the technology when regulations make it legal. The first models to offer Drive Pilot are the EQS electric sedan and S-Class flagship sedan, and Mercedes says the tech will be available in Germany during the first half of 2022.

How does Mercedes Drive Pilot work?

Building on the sensors currently available in the Driving Assistance package, Drive Pilot adds lidar, a camera in the rear window, external microphones that can help the car identify approaching emergency vehicles, and moisture sensors within the wheelwells that tell the technology when weather conditions require a human driver.

Drivers activate the system using buttons on the steering wheel. If conditions allow use of Drive Pilot, the technology takes full control of vehicle speed, managing the distance to vehicles ahead and lane centering. Mercedes says the system takes into account your programmed destination, traffic events on the route, and traffic signs. Drive Pilot can also independently react to unexpected situations, taking evasive action within the lane of travel or braking when necessary.

When the system requires drivers to retake control, increasingly urgent prompts will get their attention. If the driver fails to respond, Drive Pilot assumes there is a medical emergency. It will bring the vehicle to a safe stop, activate the hazard flashers, and place a call via the Mercedes-Benz emergency call system. It also unlocks the windows and doors to make it easier for first responders to access the vehicle's cabin to render aid.

To ensure what Mercedes calls "operational reliability," a vehicle positioning system that is "much more powerful than conventional GPS systems" keeps track of the vehicle's location. Additionally, satellite navigation data, high-definition map data and sensor data combine with system software to ensure that Drive Pilot operates in a fail-safe manner.

Edmunds says

People don't enjoy driving like they used to, and data suggests this is especially true for younger people. Commuting in congested traffic is a contributing factor, and Level 3 conditionally automated systems like Drive Pilot can help people to reclaim some of that wasted time and alleviate stress.

However, you're still going to need to know how to drive. Not only that, you're going to need to know how to drive in heavy rain, driving snow and any other conditions that render Drive Pilot and similar technologies inoperable. The only way to get the experience necessary for these situations is to log hours as a driver who is in complete control of the vehicle.

As such, Drive Pilot is useful only to people who already know how to drive. Furthermore, considering the tech's availability only on the EQS and S-Class, you'll need to be wealthy. If that's not you, putting a self-driving car in your driveway remains a distant dream. And even if that is you, you'll have to wait for U.S. authorities to approve Drive Pilot's self-driving capabilities before you can legally use them on American roads.

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