Mercedes-Benz is the first automaker to receive approval for its DRIVE PILOT system, a Level 3 autonomous driving technology that allows drivers to take their eyes off the road in certain conditions. The system features turquoise-colored marker lights that indicate when the car is driving itself and when the driver needs to take over. The system has been authorized for use on designated highways in California and Nevada, two of the most progressive states in terms of self-driving regulations.

What is DRIVE PILOT and how does it work?

DRIVE PILOT is a conditional automated driving system that can take over the steering, braking, and acceleration of the car on highways where the traffic flow is predictable and the lanes are clearly marked. The system uses a combination of cameras, radar, lidar, and GPS to monitor the road and the surroundings and communicates with the driver through a human-machine interface (HMI) that includes visual, auditory, and haptic feedback.

The system can be activated by pressing a button on the steering wheel, and the driver can then relax and enjoy the ride. The system will display a turquoise light on the dashboard and on the exterior of the car, signaling to other road users that the car is in automated mode. The driver can also use the infotainment system or make phone calls without being distracted.

However, the driver is still required to remain alert and ready to resume control of the car when needed. The system will alert the driver through the HMI when the conditions are no longer suitable for automated driving, such as when the highway ends when the traffic becomes too complex, or when the weather deteriorates. The driver will then have to take over the steering wheel within a few seconds, or the system will bring the car to a safe stop on the shoulder.

What are the benefits and challenges of DRIVE PILOT?

DRIVE PILOT is designed to enhance the safety and comfort of the driver and the passengers and reduce the stress and fatigue of long-distance driving. The system can also improve traffic flow and efficiency by maintaining a constant speed and distance from other vehicles and by avoiding unnecessary lane changes or braking.

However, DRIVE PILOT also poses some challenges and limitations that need to be addressed before it can be widely adopted. One main challenge is ensuring that the driver remains attentive and responsive to the system’s requests and does not become overconfident or complacent about the system’s capabilities. Another challenge is to ensure that the system can handle unexpected situations or emergencies, such as road hazards, accidents, or system failures, and that the driver can intervene quickly and safely.

Moreover, DRIVE PILOT is not yet compatible with all highways or all jurisdictions, and the legal and ethical implications of the system are still unclear. For example, who is liable in case of a crash involving a self-driving car? How can the system respect the privacy and data protection of the driver and the passengers? How can the system cope with the moral dilemmas that may arise in life-or-death scenarios?

When and where can you get DRIVE PILOT?

DRIVE PILOT has been available in Germany for S-Class and E-Class models since May 2022. Mercedes-Benz has also become the first automaker to receive corresponding approval in California and Nevada U.S. states. DRIVE PILOT will be available on the U.S. market as an optional extra for S-Class and E-Class models in model year 2024. The first deliveries for the respective S-Class and E-Class models are expected later this year.

The system will be limited to certain highways in the Bay Area, Central Valley, Los Angeles, Sacramento, and San Diego in California and on the interstate highway connecting Southern California to Nevada. The system will also be restricted to daylight hours and speeds not exceeding 40 mph. The system will cost around $10,000, including the hardware and software upgrades and the subscription fee for the service.

Mercedes-Benz is not the only automaker working on autonomous driving technology, but it is the first to offer a Level 3 system to the public. Other systems currently on the market, such as Tesla’s Autopilot or General Motors’ Super Cruise, are classified as Level 2, which means that the driver has to keep their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road at all times. Mercedes-Benz claims that its system is more advanced and more reliable than its competitors and that it will pave the way for the future of mobility.

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