LOS ANGELES (KABC) — Recently I was in the driver’s seat of a 2024 Mercedes EQS, but not myself, but the car!
Welcome to the next phase of high-tech driver assistance: Level 3 autonomy.
“The paradigm shift to Level 3 is that you can take your eyes off the road and your hands off the wheel. You’re no longer the driver, you’re a receptive, relapse-ready user,” explained Lucas Bolster, an engineer at Mercedes-Benz USA who has been working on the brand’s autonomous driving technology for eight years.
The car I drove wasn’t a future prototype, it’s a production car that will go on sale in California and Nevada later this year. with Official permit. Drive Pilot is the first system that allows you to give the vehicle control in a relaxed manner.
Mercedes-Benz said I was the first person outside the company allowed to try it out.
How does it work?
Behind the wheel I could look around and talk to the passengers.
“I didn’t have to look forward or even touch the steering wheel,” he said.
The EQS with Drive Pilot took care of all the steering, acceleration and braking. Level 2 autonomy came to great success in 2017 with General Motors’ Super Cruise.
It’s okay to keep your hands off the wheel, but you still need to pay attention to the road at all times. Ford has a similar system called Blue Cruise and Tesla offers driver assistance systems, although currently only at level 2.
The Drive Pilot from Mercedes-Benz is the first of its kind because, under certain conditions, you can legally look away from the road. This allows the driver to use all functions of the Mercedes-Benz MBUX infotainment system.
“Some of the things we changed at our headquarters so you can now use your free time would be things like office in the car, surfing the internet, you can go on YouTube, you can play some games in the head unit, or You could watch a movie,” Bolster said.
To make this work, there is obviously additional technology built into the car. This includes LiDAR, high-resolution GPS with centimeter precision, state-of-the-art cameras, backup systems for chassis control and electrical circuits – all networked with a lot of computing power.
The driver is still a key component, remaining awake, alert and ready to take control when asked. Drive Pilot is so demanding; It can even detect emergency vehicles approaching from behind and ask the driver to take over.
While you’re on the move, you’ll receive a message and a beep indicating that Drive Pilot is available. You tap the “OK” button on the steering wheel and the car then drives almost independently.
The system only works when you are on a highway and driving less than 40 miles per hour. But in Southern California, of course, that’s most of the time. In order for Drive Pilot to intervene, the system must analyze exactly where the vehicle is.
Oh, but one aspect is a bit disappointing: at this early stage it only works in dry conditions. Wet roads present another challenge, which is why a microphone is installed in one of the wheel arches to detect the sounds of water escaping from the tire.
For some, the $2,500 annual subscription to the feature, on top of the $100,000-plus price tag for a Mercedes-Benz EQS electric vehicle, may be worth it simply because of the ability to use the system in most of our heavy highway traffic can. They’ll also offer it on the petrol S-Class from early next year – another six-figure car.
But like other technologies that have been added over the years, Mercedes says this will eventually make its way to cheaper models. Two examples are airbags and anti-lock braking systems. These were introduced in the top-of-the-range S-Class from Mercedes-Benz back in the 1980s, and today you can’t buy a new car without them.
What about the next phase of self-driving cars?
Autonomy level 4 is currently being worked on, where the driver is allowed to nod off because the car provides its own backup.
“We want to introduce Level 4 on highways by the end of the decade,” Bolster said.