Will reality soon surpass fiction? Watching a movie when it’s jammed on the highway: that’s what Mercedes-Benz’s “Drive Pilot” system, marketed from mid-May in Germany, will allow, ahead of Tesla in the competitive niche of so-called autonomous driving “level 3”. The system, which allows you to take your hands off the steering wheel and look away from the road in certain situations, will be offered to buyers of the German brand’s two most expensive models, the S-Class and its electric counterpart EQS, for 5,000 and 7,430. euros excluding taxes respectively, according to a press release this Friday, May 6. “Drive Pilot” as it will be sold, however, can only drive the vehicle without human intervention in certain specific situations: in the event of heavy traffic on the motorways, with a maximum speed of 60 km/h.
The device allows the driver to check emails, browse the internet or watch a movie on the car’s central screen. “Customers can relax or work,” Mercedes-Benz notes. But the pilot must be able at all times to intervene in less than ten seconds if the system asks him to. Otherwise, the car automatically stops “safely”. To analyze its environment and decide on maneuvers, the EQS and the S-Class rely on a large number of sensors, including a LiDAR (laser ranging) system from the equipment manufacturer Valeo. From driver assistance to unmanned cars, a vehicle’s degree of autonomy has five levels.
Tesla under fire from critics
At Tesla, the autonomous driving currently marketed is “level 2” and requires an attentive driver at all times, supervising the operations of the on-board computer. Elon Musk’s company, a pioneer in electric and autonomous mobility, is also under fire from criticism from the American regulator, who accuses it of having ignored its recommendations on the driver assistance system. Mercedes-Benz had obtained last December the first worldwide approval to market highly autonomous vehicles compliant with the UN-R157 standard, where local legislation authorizes it. After Germany, the manufacturer says it wants to obtain “by the end of the year” authorization for mass marketing in California and Nevada.
Germany is the European pioneer of autonomous driving: since 2017, level 3 driving has been authorized there. The Audi manufacturer thought of integrating this technology on its flagship, the A8, before retracting. At the end of 2020, Japan became the first country in the world to homologate a level 3 autonomous system on public roads, integrated on a Honda Legend, marketed in a limited series in the spring of 2021. The Stellantis group (Peugeot-Fiat) plans to side to implement in 2024 its first level 3 system, developed with BMW.
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