At CES earlier this January, Mercedes announced that it would become the first car company to achieve certification from the SAE for a Level 3 driver assist system. That became official on Thursday when the automaker confirmed its Drive Pilot ADAS (automated driver assist system) now complies with the requirements of Nevada Chapter 482A, which governs the use of autonomous vehicle technology on the state's roads. That makes Drive Pilot the only legal Level 3 system in the US for the moment.
"An unwavering commitment to innovation has consistently guided Mercedes-Benz from the very beginning," Dimitris Psillakis, President and CEO of MBUSA, said in Thursday's press statement. "It is a very proud moment for everyone to continue this leadership and celebrate this monumental achievement as the first automotive company to be certified for Level 3 conditionally automated driving in the US market."
Level 3 capabilities, as defined by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), would enable the vehicle to handle "all aspects of the driving" when engaged but still need the driver attentive enough to promptly take control if necessary. That's a big step up from the Level 2 systems we see today such as Tesla's "Full Self-Driving," Ford's Blue Cruise, and GM's Super Cruise. All of those are essentially extra-capable highway cruise controls where the driver must maintain their attention on driving, typically keeping their hands on or at least near the wheel, and be responsible for what the ADAS is doing while it's doing it. That's a far cry from the Knight Rider-esque ADAS outlook Tesla is selling and what Level 2 autonomy is actually capable of.
Mercedes' Drive Pilot system can, "on suitable freeway sections and where there is high traffic density," according to the company, take over the bumper-to-bumper crawling duties up to 40 MPH without the driver needing to keep their hands on the wheel. When engaged, the system handles lane-keeping duties, stays with the flow of traffic, navigates to destinations programmed into the Nav system, and will even react to "unexpected traffic situations and handles them independently, e.g. by evasive maneuvers within the lane or by braking maneuvers."
To perform these feats, the Drive Pilot system relies on a suite of sensors embedded throughout the vehicle including visual cameras, LiDAR arrays, radar and ultrasound sensors, and audio mics to keep an ear out for approaching emergency vehicles. The system even compares its onboard sensor data with what it is receiving from its GPS to ensure it knows exactly where on the road it actually is.
Drive Pilot is only available on the 2024 S-Class and EQS Sedan for now. Those are already in production and the first cars should reach the Vegas strip in the second half of this year.