Imagine driving on a highway, but instead of keeping your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road, you are relaxing in your seat, browsing the internet, watching a video, or making a phone call. It sounds like science fiction, right? Well, not anymore. Mercedes-Benz has announced that it will make this scenario a reality with its production-ready version of Drive Pilot, the world's first certified SAE Level 3 system for the U.S. market, which will be launched in late 2023.
Drive Pilot is a system that allows the driver to delegate the dynamic driving task to the car in certain traffic situations while the car monitors the road conditions and traffic flow and decides when it is safe to activate or deactivate the system. This means that the driver can engage in other activities as long as they are ready to resume control when prompted by the system.
Drive Pilot is a technological breakthrough that sets Mercedes-Benz apart from other automakers that offer Level 2 systems, such as Tesla's Autopilot or GM's Super Cruise. Level 2 systems require the driver to keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel at all times, while Level 3 systems do not. However, Level 3 systems are not fully autonomous, as they rely on human intervention in complex or unpredictable scenarios.
Drive Pilot will be available on the 2024 Mercedes-Benz EQS sedan and S-Class models, which are already equipped with advanced sensors and cameras that enable a range of driver assistance features. Drive Pilot will use these sensors and cameras, along with high-definition maps and artificial intelligence, to monitor the road conditions and traffic flow and to decide when it is safe to activate or deactivate the system.
Mercedes-Benz Drive Pilot will only work on mapped highways and during daylight hours when there is no rain or snow, and when the traffic speed is below 40 mph. The system will also check the driver's attention level and readiness to take over through an infrared camera inside the cabin. If the system detects that the driver is not paying attention or is not ready to resume control, it will issue a series of warnings and alerts. If the driver does not respond, the system will bring the car to a safe stop on the shoulder and call for emergency assistance.
Drive Pilot will be offered as a subscription service through the U.S. Mercedes me connect store for $2,500 per year. The system will initially be available in California and Nevada, where Mercedes-Benz has received state approval for deployment of a Level 3 vehicle. The company plans to expand the availability of Drive Pilot to other U.S. markets in the future and other countries where the regulatory framework allows for Level 3 systems.
Why Drive Pilot Matters
Drive Pilot is a milestone in the development of automated driving technology, and a step towards a self-driving revolution that could transform mobility and society. According to Mercedes-Benz, Drive Pilot will enhance safety, comfort, and convenience for drivers and passengers, while also reducing stress, fatigue, and emissions. Drive Pilot will also pave the way for higher levels of automation in the future, such as Level 4 and Level 5 systems that can handle all driving situations without human input.
Drive Pilot is based on decades of research and development by Mercedes-Benz, which has been a pioneer in automated driving since 1986, when it introduced its first experimental self-driving car. Since then, Mercedes-Benz has been testing and improving its automated driving systems on public roads around the world, covering millions of miles and thousands of scenarios. In 2013, Mercedes-Benz became the first automaker to demonstrate a fully automated drive from Mannheim to Pforzheim in Germany, following the historic route of Bertha Benz in 1888. In 2015, Mercedes-Benz became the first automaker to obtain a license for testing automated vehicles in Nevada. In 2017, Mercedes-Benz became the first automaker to test automated vehicles in real traffic conditions in China.
Drive Pilot is also based on extensive customer feedback and user studies by Mercedes-Benz, which has been conducting surveys and interviews with potential users of automated driving systems since 2011. The company has found that most customers are interested in automated driving systems that can offer them more freedom and flexibility in their daily lives. However, customers also have concerns about safety, reliability, responsibility, and trust in automated driving systems. Therefore, Mercedes-Benz has designed Drive Pilot with these customer needs and expectations in mind.
Drive Pilot is not just a product but a paradigm shift that requires careful evaluation and regulation. Drive Pilot poses some challenges and risks that need to be addressed before it can be widely adopted. For instance:
- How will drivers cope with the transition from automated to manual driving? Will they be able to quickly regain situational awareness and take over control when needed? Will they be able to switch between different levels of automation smoothly?
- How will other road users react to cars that drive themselves? Will they be able to communicate and cooperate with automated vehicles? Will they be able to predict and anticipate their behavior?
- How will liability and insurance issues be resolved in case of accidents involving Level 3 vehicles? Who will be held accountable and responsible for the damages and injuries? How will the evidence and data be collected and analyzed?
- How will cybersecurity and privacy be ensured for cars that are connected to the internet and cloud services? How will the data and information be protected and encrypted? How will the users be informed and consented about the data collection and usage?
- How will ethical dilemmas be solved by cars that have to make life-and-death decisions? How will the cars balance the trade-offs between different values and principles? How will the cars reflect the moral preferences and norms of the users and society?
These are some of the questions that Mercedes-Benz and other stakeholders need to answer as they introduce Drive Pilot and other automated driving systems to the market. Drive Pilot is not just a product, but a paradigm shift that requires careful evaluation and regulation. As Mercedes-Benz states on its website, "Responsible handling of this technology is our top priority and key to acceptance among customers and society."
Drive Pilot is an exciting innovation that promises to change how we drive and travel. It is also a complex and controversial technology that raises many technical, legal, social, and ethical issues. Drive Pilot is not a self-driving car, but it is a significant step towards one. It is up to us to decide how we want to use it and what kind of future we want to create with it.