Mercedes-Benz has announced that it will launch a production-ready version of its Drive Pilot automated driving system in the USA before the end of 2023.
Initially it will use a limited fleet of SAE Level 3-equipped Mercedes EQS electric sedans which it is calling Drive Pilot: First Class. These will then be joined by more EQS and S-Class sedan models in 2024 for the program which will be run in the states of California and Nevada. These are the first two states to approve the system and issue certification for use on major freeways. While the regulatory framework varies by state, the auto maker says it intends to further expand availability of the technology to additional US markets in the future.
“Drive Pilot is the world’s first and only system for conditionally automated driving with internationally valid type approval,” said Markus Schäfer, member of the board of management of Mercedes‑Benz Group AG, as well as its chief technology officer responsible for development and procurement.
“It is engineered with a sophisticated system architecture based on redundancy with many different sensor types. I strongly believe that redundancy is key for safe automated driving for Level 3 and beyond. Safety is one of Mercedes-Benz core values. Responsible handling of this technology is our top priority and the key to acceptance among customers and in society.”
The system enables the vehicle to take over the dynamic driving task up to speeds of 40mph on suitable freeway sections and during high traffic density. Once activated, Drive Pilot controls the speed and distance, guiding the vehicle within its lane. During a conditionally automated journey, certain applications can be enabled on the vehicle’s integrated central display that are otherwise blocked while driving.
Safety remains central and the system builds on the vehicle sensing technology of Mercedes’s Driver Assistance Package with additional sensors. These include lidar, a camera in the rear window and microphones for detecting emergency vehicles, as well as a road wetness sensor in the wheel well. A vehicle equipped with Drive Pilot also has redundant steering and braking actuators and a redundant onboard electrical system to ensure maneuverability in the event one of these systems fails.
The exact location of a vehicle equipped with the system is determined using a high‑precision positioning system that is more powerful than conventional GPS systems. Mercedes says it is so accurate that it can determine the position of the vehicle within a range of inches. In addition to the anonymized data collected by the cameras and sensors, a digital HD map provides a three-dimensional image of the road and the surroundings. This map includes information on road geometry, route characteristics, traffic signs and special traffic events such as accidents, road works or construction zones. Each vehicle also stores a copy of this map information on board, constantly compares it with a backend data center and updates the local data set as required.
The auto maker has also developed special turquoise colored Automated Driving Marker Lights (based on SAE J3134 Recommended Practice) that identify when the system is engaged, although at present, there is no national regulatory framework in the USA to implement this.
The system will be installed on selected models and access to its capabilities will be via the Mercedes Me connect store with prices starting at US$2,500.
“Drive Pilot is a technological game changer and incredible leap forward in the pursuit of conditionally automated driving,” said Dimitris Psillakis, president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA. “This ground-breaking system reinforces our intention to lead in safety and technology, while giving precious time back to our customers during heavy traffic situations.”