The German automaker has already beaten rivals for Level 3 approval.
Mercedes-Benz has gone on record stating that Level 4 self-driving is "doable" by decade's end. Speaking to Automotive News, the German automaker's Chief Technology Officer, Markus Schafer, said, "private-owned Level 4 cars, absolutely. This is something that I see in the future."
Mercedes' Level 3 technology, called Drive Pilot, is the first of its kind in the US and has already been approved for use in Nevada, and other states such as California are expected to follow suit in the coming months. For now, only the 2024 S-Class and EQS Sedan offer Level 3, both of which will go on sale in the second half of this year. Unlike Level 2+ systems like GM's Super Cruise, Ford's Blue Cruise, and Tesla's Autopilot and Full Self-Driving, Drive Pilot can "hand over the dynamic driving task to the vehicle under certain conditions."
The system utilizes a combination of LiDAR, radar, and various sensors to allow for safe highway driving at speeds of up to 40 mph.
Yes, Level 3 makes it possible to text and drive (although we should point out that this is still illegal), but the driver must still be ready to assume control of the vehicle at a moment's notice if the system detects any sort of obstacle. Level 4 takes things up a notch. "Just imagine you are in a big city, and you come from work, and you are sitting for two hours in traffic, and you press the button and go to sleep," Schaefer added. "There will be a demand for that."
One key difference between Level 3 and Level 4 is that human drivers don't have to keep an eye on the road in most conditions. Level 4 is ideally suited for heavy traffic within cities, but things like extreme weather are a different matter.
Level 5, which requires absolutely no human involvement, is still years away from becoming possible. Companies like Waymo and Cruise are currently testing driverless taxis with that tech, but it's still far from perfect and remains expensive.
Mercedes is taking responsibility for Drive Pilot's accuracy and safety by assuming liability if the vehicle were to be the cause of a highway crash, for example.
The carmaker's Level 3 headstart places it in a prime position to introduce Level 4. Its upcoming new Modular Architecture platform, due to launch in the middle of the decade, will come hardwired with Level 4 capability once the technology is ready and approved for use by government safety regulators. The race to Level 4 brings not only prestige and bragging rights but also significant revenue.
Automakers - especially luxury brands - know that consumers will be more than happy to pay more for the technology because it brings a lot of additional conveniences. But the most difficult task they will face - and Mercedes is no exception - is proving to the public that Level 4 is safe. The introduction of Level 3 Drive Pilot is a significant step in that direction.