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Mercedes-Benz Cleared to Offer its DRIVE PILOT ‘Eyes Off the Road' Level-3 Autonomous Driving System on Vehicles in Germany

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【Summary】Germany's car watchdog has cleared the semi-autonomous driving system offered by Mercedes Benz, paving the way for the luxury carmaker to begin offering its “Drive Pilot” autonomous driving system internationally. Mercedes-Benz will become the first automotive company in the world to meet the demanding legal requirements for a Level 3 system that can operate without needing a driver to pay attention to the road at all times.

Eric Walz    Jan 15, 2022 10:00 AM PT
Mercedes-Benz Cleared to Offer its DRIVE PILOT ‘Eyes Off the Road' Level-3 Autonomous Driving System on Vehicles in Germany
With Mercedes-Benz DRIVE PILOT active, drivers can take their eyes off the road and read a book or watch a movie.

Germany's car watchdog has cleared  the semi-autonomous driving system offered by Mercedes Benz, paving the way for the luxury carmaker to begin offering its "Drive Pilot" autonomous driving system internationally.

Mercedes-Benz will become the first automotive company in the world to meet the demanding legal requirements of UN-R157 for a Level 3 system that can operate without having a driver to pay attention to the road at all times.

The highly automated system allows the driver to focus on other activities, like reading a book or watching a movie, while the system is active in heavy traffic or on congested highways, Mercedes-Benz said in a statement on Thursday. Once in Drive Pilot mode, applications such as movie streaming or games, can be enabled on the vehicle's integrated central display that are otherwise blocked while driving.

Germany's approval means Mercedes-Benz can offer the new S-Class with Drive Pilot to customers in Germany in the first half of 2022.

Drive Pilot can take over the driving tasks at speed up to 60 km/h (37 mph). When the driver activates Drive Pilot using buttons on the steering wheel, the system will automatically control the speed and distance between other vehicles, as well as keep the car centered in a lane.

The system also reacts to unexpected traffic situations and handles them independently, such as emergency braking manoeuvres.

"For the first time in 136 years of automotive history, the vehicle takes over the dynamic driving task under certain conditions," said Markus Schäfer, Member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG and Mercedes-Benz AG, Chief Technology Officer responsible for Development and Purchasing. "At the same time, we are pleased that Germany is continuing its pioneering role in automated driving with this approval."

Drive Pilot is an advanced version of Mercedes Benz's Driving Assistance Package and includes additional sensors that support safe automated driving. 

These sensors include LiDAR, as well as a camera in the rear window and microphones. The microphones and cameras can detect the blue lights and other special signals from emergency vehicles. The system also has a wetness sensor in the wheel well to detect wet road conditions that may extend braking distance. 

The S-Class with the optional Drive Pilot feature also has redundant steering and braking systems and a redundant on-board electrical system. In case any of these systems fails control can still be handed back to the driver.

If the driver fails to take back control after being prompted to due to a medical emergency, the systems will bring the vehicle to a controlled stop and activate the hazard warning lights. Once the vehicle comes to a complete stop, the Mercedes-Benz emergency call system is activated and the doors and windows are unlocked, to make access to the interior easier for any first responders.

Drive Pilot also receives information about the road geometry, route profile, traffic signs and unusual traffic events (e.g. accidents or roadworks) from a digital HD map. 

The exact location of the S-Class is determined using a highly accurate positioning system. This is much more powerful than conventional GPS, according to Daimler. To know the exact position of the vehicle, data obtained from satellite navigation is matched with sensor data and data from the HD map. In addition, sensor data collected by LiDAR, cameras, radar and ultrasonic sensors can provide information on road geometry, route characteristics, landmarks or traffic signs.

Germany's KBA authority approved the system based on technical requirements laid out in United Nations regulations for automated lane keep assist systems.

The KBA approved the system only for speeds of up to 60 kilometres per hour (37 mph). It has not decided whether to clear it for speeds of up to 130 kph ( 80 mph), or for lane changing features that automatically pass slower moving traffic.

In addition to the U.N. regulation on technical requirements for automated driving systems, countries also have to pass legislation clarifying where and how such systems can be used, as well as issues of liability in case something goes wrong.

"The KBA is setting national, European and international standards in road safety on the road to autonomous driving," said the authority's president, Richard Damm, in a statement.

As soon as legislation in China and the United States is in place, Mercedes-Benz will offer Drive Pilot in those markets, Schaefer added. For the U.S. however, customers might have to wait a bit longer. 

The U.S. still lacks a regulatory framework surrounding the deployment of Level-3 autonomous driving systems. The current systems on the market, such as Tesla's Autopilot, are considered to be level-2 automated systems, meaning that drivers must pay attention to the road at all times, as well as keep their hands on the steering wheel. 

Level 3 automated systems have been allowed in Germany since 2017. According to Mercedes-Benz, there are over 13,100 kilometres (8,140 miles) of roadways suitable for the Drive Pilot system in Germany.

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