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Mercedes S-Class To Get Autonomous Driving Sooner Than We Thought

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Did you think Mercedes would let Audi stay in the spotlight for long?

The refreshed 2018 Mercedes S-Class introduced new driver assist technology that brought fully self-driving cars one step closer to reality. But one of its rivals is already one step ahead. Last year, the flagship Audi A8 debuted with a Level 3 semi-autonomous driving system, but Mercedes isn't planning to let its rival stay in the spotlight for long. After all, the automaker is renowned for pioneering automotive tech long before it becomes available as standard in other cars.

It was also one of the first luxury automakers to incorporate semi-autonomous driving technology into its cars with the addition of adaptive cruise control over a decade ago. For Mercedes, the ultimate goal is to be the first automaker to offer Level 4 and full Level 5 autonomous technology. "It is our goal in the next three years or so, to have the first application in the market for that Level 4 / Level 5 technology," Mercedes research and development boss Ola Kallenius told Autoguide. "Prior to that, in 2020, we're pursuing our first Level 3 car where you can obviously have some parts of the driving experience autonomous."

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Level 3 autonomy will debut in the S-Class, which Kallenius notes will be a "sensible option" for buyers of the range-topper. The technology will be available as an optional extra, and is likely to be priced similarly to other high-end optional extras on the full-size luxury sedan. A Driver Assistance Package on the current S560 sedan costs $2,250 and includes features such as Active Steering Assist, Active Lane Keeping Assist, and Active Brake Assist with a cross-traffic function. Level 3 autonomy can handle "all aspects of the dynamic driving task with the expectation that the human driver will respond appropriately to a request to intervene," according to SAE International.

As for Mercedes' goal to take the self-driving technology to the next level, Mercedes has partnered with Bosch to develop Level 4 and Level 5 autonomy for the taxi market, the latter of which doesn't require any human intervention. "Here it's also a two-pronged approach where the proliferation of the Level 3 system we can probably do it much quicker, because also the technical and cost infrastructure of Level 3 system is such that you can sell it as an option, whereas Level 4 and Level 5, at least in first generation, it's such a significant overall cost to the vehicle that the intelligent business case is a robotaxi."