Mercedes-Benz is the first automaker to get permission from California regulators to sell or lease vehicles with Level 3 (hands-off and eyes-off) self driving tech on designated roads, Reuters has reported. The California Department of Motor Vehicles issued a permit for the company's Drive Pilot system, provided it's used under certain conditions and on specific roads. Mercedes-Benz previous received a similar certification in Nevada.
Drive Pilot will allow Mercedes-Benz drivers to takes their eyes off the road and hands off the wheel, then do other non-driving activities like watching videos and texting. If the rules for use are followed, Mercedes (and not the driver) will be legally responsible for any accident that happens.
To do all this, the Drive Pilot system relies on sensors installed throughout the vehicle including visual cameras, LiDAR arrays, radar/ultrasound sensors and audio mics to keep an ear out for approaching emergency vehicles. It can even compare onboard sensor and GPS data to fix its precise location on roads.
It's not as advanced as the systems on Waymo and Cruise vehicles, which allow full self-driving with no human driver aboard. At the same time, it's a step up from Tesla's so-called Full Self-Driving system, which is actually a Level 2 system and requires drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and pay attention at all times.
Utilization is limited to high-traffic situations during daylight, with speeds under 40 MPH, and drivers must be available to resume control — so you can't go in the back seat and sleep, for example. To enforce that, the vehicle tracks the driver with an in-car monitor, and you'll need to take over if it goes faster than 40MPH, an emergency vehicle shows up, it rains, or other situations Driver Pilot can't handle on its own.
The system will be available on 2024 S-Class and EQS Sedan models, with deliveries slated for later this year. Engadget was able to test the system at Mercedes-Benz's test track in Germany (and see it in action on LA roads). According to contributor Roberto Baldwin, "while it did what it was supposed to do, we found it hard to turn off our driving brain while behind the wheel."