Mercedes' autonomous driving system, Drive Pilot, has received the world's first regulatory approval for Level 3 driving on public roads. The German Federal Motor Transport Authority (KBA) issued its consent, enabling drivers to use the hands-free system at speeds up to 37 mph.
German authorities created the legal basis for a Level 3 system in 2017 with the Road Traffic Act, becoming the first country to craft legislation around automated driving. Since then, Mercedes has enhanced its Driving Assistance Package with the goal of the Level 3 milestone. New integrations include LiDAR, additional cameras, and a data-rich HD map that feeds critical information about accidents and roadwork to the vehicle.
Level 3 autonomous driving is generally defined as "hands-free," but the driver must be able to take control as needed. Unlike Ford's BlueCruise or GM's Super Cruise, the Mercedes system enables the vehicle to make changes based on driving conditions without the driver's input or hands on the wheel. According to a company statement, Drive Pilot users can watch a movie or surf the internet using Mercedes' In-Car Office, a feature ordinarily disabled during driving.
Mercedes has also created several backup schemes if Drive Pilot fails. These include an additional electrical system and provisional steering and braking. If the driver cannot take back control, Drive Pilot will bring the vehicle to a stop, turn on the hazard lights, and place a call to emergency services.
Consumers looking to use the Level 3 Drive Pilot will need to purchase an adequately equipped new S-class in the first half of 2022 or own Mercedes' new electric sedan, the EQS. They will also need to use Drive Pilot on the 8,197 approved miles of highway in Germany. Mercedes is reportedly testing the Level 3 technology in China and the United States.
The news comes as a blow to Tesla as its Full Self-Driving driver-assistance feature faces criticism. In 2019, Elon Musk declared, "I think we will be feature complete, full self-driving, this year," and as of fall 2021, the system is still in beta testing. Adding to Tesla's difficulties is that the beta version is currently under investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) after reports of several system-related collisions.
Meanwhile, other automakers are nipping at the heels of both Mercedes and Tesla, including Volvo, whose Level 3 Highway Pilot system is expected to launch in its upcoming version of its flagship SUV, the 2022 XC90.