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Mercedes-Benz EQS with Drive Pilot on the road

Mercedes to Bring Level 3 Autonomous Driving Tech to U.S. Later This Year

The rollout will begin in California and Nevada

  • Mercedes’ Drive Pilot likely will be the first Level 3 system to be certified in the U.S.
  • This system allows for “conditionally automated” driving in limited-speed highway conditions.
  • The company is waiting on final certification from California and Nevada before launching the technology to consumers in those states.

Autonomous driving is coming, but even today's most advanced systems only allow for hands-free driving in certain circumstances. But even greater computer control is just over the horizon. Today, Mercedes-Benz announced it will roll out the automaker's Level 3 Drive Pilot technology in select vehicles, starting in California and Nevada before expanding to other states.

We experienced Drive Pilot for ourselves in 2021 in a Mercedes-Benz EQS at a closed testing facility in Germany and came away impressed with its potential for success. Back then, we thought it was optimistic of Mercedes to say it would bring the tech to the U.S. “within two years,” but so far it appears the automaker's on track to make good on that promise. Drive Pilot’s debut is contingent on approval from those two states’ governing bodies but is expected to pass.

What does Level 3 mean again?

In this growing world of driving assistance systems, it’s easy to get confused about where they all fall. To date, there is no government-approved SAE Level 3 system actively on the road in the U.S. — and that includes Tesla’s poorly named “Full Self-Driving.”

In a Level 3 vehicle, the car can pass control back to the driver, but it must provide a few seconds' warning before doing so. This is different from Level 2 systems such as GM’s Super Cruise, Ford's BlueCruise or Lexus' Teammate systems, which allow for hands-free driving in certain circumstances but can demand the driver take over almost instantly. For Level 3, the driver does not have to monitor the road while behind the wheel when the system is actively working.

While there is sure to be a mess of legal debates and interpretations on the matter, Mercedes has said it would be responsible if the car gets into an accident while the system is on.

So what does Drive Pilot do?

The Mercedes Drive Pilot system uses a plethora of cameras, lidar sensors and GPS tracking to keep track of the conditions around the car. While this level of monitoring means that the car is effectively paying attention on behalf of the driver, the system only functions up to 37 miles per hour (at least initially) and on select stretches of highway. Think of it more as a traffic chauffeur rather than full-speed cruise control.

In-car sensors monitor the driver’s eyes and other parameters to ensure that the driver's awake and alert — sorry, no nap time on your commute home just yet. That said, the driver does not have to pay attention to road. The Mercedes system will even provide some entertainment in the form of a game on the infotainment screen.

Mercedes Drive Pilot demonstration interior

Edmunds says

We appreciate the cautious yet ambitious approach that Mercedes is taking with the exciting technology. As Californians ourselves, the prospect of getting through LA with Drive Pilot could be a game changer for commuters.