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Mercedes-Benz DRIVE PILOT gains first U.S. approval for Level 3 system

Credit: Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes-Benz has officially received certification to operate its SAE Level 3 autonomous driving system, DRIVE PILOT, in Nevada, making it the first brand to do so in the United States.

Mercedes first launched its DRIVE PILOT system at the end of 2021. Then they began shipping vehicles with the capability to customers in Germany in mid-2022, becoming the first automaker in the country to pass through the government’s stringent autonomous driving certification process.

Now, the brand has become the first to receive certification in the United States.

The DRIVE PILOT system is officially certified to operate on “suitable freeway sections” in Nevada in high-traffic density situations. It can operate at speeds up to 40 MPH. The company first revealed its paperwork had been filed with Nevada and California earlier this year, with California expected to grant certification later this year. Currently, DRIVE PILOT is available on the Mercedes EQS Sedan and Mercedes S-Class sedans, with vehicles being delivered with the system beginning in the second half of this year.

Mercedes-Benz was granted this approval as DRIVE PILOT meets the requirements of Nevada Chapter 482A for Autonomous Vehicles. As Mercedes states, some functions and applications will be available that would otherwise be blocked while driving. These activities are legally permissible depending on laws that apply where DRIVE PILOT is being used.

Best outlined by Mercedes Board Member Markus Schäfer, this is just the beginning of a larger rollout of the software:

“DRIVE PILOT demonstrates once more that our pioneering spirit is part of our DNA. Certification in Nevada marks the start of its international rollout and, with it, the dawning of a new era.”

To achieve this certification, among other regulations, Mercedes showed that its set of redundant driving systems could keep drivers safe while controlling the vehicle. A combination of steering, braking actuators, and onboard electrical system redundancy measures keep the vehicle maneuverable, even if a system fails.

Additionally, the vehicles will rely on a combination of LiDAR, radar, and cameras that allow the car to monitor where it is relative to other vehicles constantly down to the centimeter. Mercedes combines these systems with high-precision GPS mapping, ensuring the most consistent experience possible.

DRIVE PILOT will also take matters into its own hands if drivers fail to take back control, even after “increasingly urgent” audible and visual alerts. Mercedes said that it would brake the vehicle to a standstill in a controlled manner, then will activate hazard lights. Doors will be unlocked, and Mercedes’ emergency call system will contact first responders. This is an increasingly needed feature in case of a major medical emergency.

While the Mercedes technology has often been drawn as a parallel to Tesla’s Full Self-Driving offering, through this most recent certification, Mercedes now differentiates itself in two ways. Foremost, in a crash with another vehicle, while DRIVE PILOT is engaged, Mercedes accepts legal liability for the accident. Furthermore, this certification has shown relevant authorities that it can operate safely, a process that Tesla will likely need to follow through in the near future.

Mercedes’ announcement also follows a series of other major milestones for the company. The German luxury automaker recently revealed that it would be opening its own series of EV chargers, starting in North America and working globally. Mercedes has also recently highlighted (in granular detail) its incredible production shift to EVs occurring worldwide and utilizing each of its current manufacturing plants.

While there is no doubt many still see Mercedes as a non-threat to Tesla’s Full Self-Driving suite, today’s announcement proves otherwise. Hopefully, through this continued competition, autonomy can improve overall and become available to most people as a safe alternative to regular vehicle operation.

Alongside DRIVE PILOT, Mercedes also announced that its Level 2 driver assistance system would make its North American debut later this year, which features ADAS features like autonomous lane merging, speed controls, and perhaps most importantly, emergency braking.

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Mercedes-Benz DRIVE PILOT gains first U.S. approval for Level 3 system
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