Mercedes brings first legal Level 3 self-driving system to Nevada

Despite the names and capabilities of the advanced driver assistance systems offered by many automakers, no system offered on a production vehicle has qualified for Level 3 self-driving capability under SAE rules. That’s set to change soon, as Mercedes-Benz announced on Thursday that the 2024 S-Class and EQS sedans will be equipped with Drive Pilot, a Level 3 system that will be legal in Nevada in the second half of the year can.

To qualify as a Level 3 system, according to the SAE definition, a system “can operate the vehicle under limited conditions and will not operate unless all conditions are met”. The definition also states that the driver “does not drive the vehicle when these automated driving functions are activated” even when sitting in the driver’s seat. However, the driver must be ready to take control if the conditions for the system to work are not met or if the system requests it.

Mercedes said Drive Pilot has met Nevada Chapter 482A requirements for autonomous vehicles and hopes to make the system available in California later this year. Meanwhile, Tesla’s full self-driving feature, which doesn’t qualify as Level 3, could soon be illegal in California.

Drive Pilot works on the Autobahn in busy traffic situations at speeds of up to 40 mph. It will be able to control the speed and distance to vehicles ahead and keep the vehicle in lane. It will automatically respond to road signs and traffic events on the route, Mercedes says.

The system is activated using buttons on the steering wheel, and these buttons indicate when the system is ready for use. If the driver does not take control when the system requests it, it will keep the vehicle in its lane, turn on the hazard warning lights, unlock the doors and activate its emergency call system.

In addition to the sensors already installed in vehicles with the driver assistance package, Drive Pilot adds a lidar sensor, a camera in the rear window, microphones for detecting emergency vehicles, a road surface wetness sensor in the wheel housing, as well as redundant steering and brake actuators, as well as a redundant on-board network. The system also uses a centimeter-accurate Global Positioning System, rather than meter-accurate as with other mapping systems. A high-resolution digital map provides a 3D image of the road geometry, the environment, the route characteristics, the traffic signs and the traffic situation. This map is provided via a backend connection and is constantly updated and refreshed by data from other Drive Pilot vehicles.

Mercedes says Drive Pilot gives time back to its drivers. When the system is active, applications that are normally blocked while driving can be activated on the central touchscreen.

This is the first application of a Level 3 system in the US, but it has been available in Germany since last May. Mercedes did not name a price for Drive Pilot.