June 13, 2023
California has become the second American state to allow Mercedes’ Level 3 “hands-off, eyes off’ autonomous tech Drive Pilot.
The Golden State’s decision follows approval from Nevada earlier this year, which marked the first time such advanced self-driving tech had been made available on production cars that the general public can lease or buy in the United States.
It is being offered in the 2024 S-Class and EQS sedan models, with the first cars delivered to customers late this year.
Level 3 is classified by the Society of Automotive Engineers as when a vehicle is in charge of driving in certain scenarios, allowing the human driver to take their hands off the steering wheel and focus on other activities, such as watching a movie or texting. However, they must be ready to intervene and take control if requested.
The permit, issued by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), will allow Drive Pilot to operate on highways across the state, stretching from the Bay Area to San Diego. But there are certain restrictions, including a speed limit of 40 mph, and activation is only facilitated in daylight hours and in good weather conditions.
A statement from the DMV explained: “This permit excludes operation on city or county streets, in construction zones, during heavy rain or heavy fog, on flooded roads and during weather conditions that are determined to impact performance of Drive Pilot. Vehicle owners must watch a mandatory video explaining the capabilities of the system and how to engage and disengage the technology before Mercedes-Benz will activate Drive Pilot in the vehicle.”
When the circumstances allow Drive Pilot to take charge, the human driver is alerted and can cede control via buttons on the steering wheel. Once activated, Drive Pilot controls the speed and distance from other vehicles, as well as guiding the car’s direction. Traffic signs and potential obstacles are taken into account, and evasive maneuvers and braking are possible.
If the driver fails to resume control after several prompts, the car can be safely brought to a standstill.
Among the tech that delivers this functionality are lidar and radar sensors, cameras and microphones (for detecting emergency vehicles), plus redundant steering and braking actuators, and a redundant on-board electrical system.
In the longer term, Mercedes says its aim is for future iterations of Drive Pilot to work at speeds of up to 80 mph.
Dimitris Psillakis, president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA, hailed Drive Pilot’s arrival in California, saying: “We are extremely proud to continue our Level 3 conditionally automated driving leadership and remain at the forefront of innovation in the U.S. market with certification in California.
“This game-changing system underscores our ambition to lead in safety and technology and provides unparalleled convenience for our valued customers by giving them back time while safely navigating today’s congested freeways.”
Drive Pilot was first offered as an option a year ago in its home market of Germany, also on the S-Class and EQS. In the United States, the automaker has decided to roll out the tech on a state-by-state basis, given the different regulatory processes that apply across the country.
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