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Mercedes-Benz is the first company to bring Level 3 automated driving to the US

Mercedes-Benz is the first company to bring Level 3 automated driving to the US

Mercedes-Benz announced that it is the first US automaker to receive government approval for Level 3 driving features. The company said it had self-certified it in Nevada for use of its Drive Pilot feature, in which the car does all the driving but requires the driver to stand over to take control at a moment's notice.

Mercedes certified that its technology meets Nevada's "minimum risk condition" requirement, which requires Level 3 or higher "fully autonomous" vehicles to be able to stop if a system malfunctions.

"Nevada law allows all automation levels to operate on public roads," a spokeswoman for the state's DMV said in an email. "Nevada does not issue any permits or licenses based on the level of automation of an autonomous vehicle."

Mercedes-Benz's DrivePilot is similar to "hands-free" highway driving systems such as GM's Super Cruise, Ford's BlueCruise and Tesla's Autopilot, in that it allows drivers to take their hands off the steering wheel and feet off the pedals. gives. conditions. But unlike the Level 2 system, which requires drivers to keep their eyes on the road, Mercedes' Level 3 system has a few more features.

According to The Drive, which had to test the system on a closed course in Germany last year, the driver must show their face to the vehicle's in-car cameras at all times, but can also turn their head to speak to a passenger Or play games on the vehicle's infotainment screen. (A Mercedes engineer suggested playing Tetris, for example.) But when the drive reporter brought a camera up to his face to take a picture, the system glitched.

In other words, the system does not allow drivers to nap or ride in the back seat of the vehicle. In the past, people have abused the lax driver monitoring controls in Tesla's Autopilot to do both, which has prompted unruly regulators and motivated safety advocates to call for more robust monitoring.

Beyond that, the Drive Pilot functions similarly to many Level 2 systems available in the US. It speeds up and slows down depending on the traffic ahead. It can stay focused in its lane and has automatic lane changes and blind spot detection. Interestingly, Mercedes says Drive Pilot will only operate at speeds up to 40 mph on "appropriate freeway sections and where there is high traffic density" - which suggests it will only work in heavy, stop-and-go traffic. Will work in will be available in

In addition to cameras and radar, the system relies on data from a lidar sensor to build a 3D model of its surrounding environment, as well as microphones to locate emergency vehicles.

To be sure, Level 3 systems are not without their risks. Most autonomous vehicle operators, including Waymo and Cruise, have said they think Level 3 is too dangerous, preferring to work exclusively on Level 4 technology. This is because drivers need to be alert despite the vehicle performing most of the driving functions.

There have been studies that suggest that a handshake between an automated system and a human driver can be particularly frightening. When people are used to driving for a long time, they may overreact when suddenly taking control in an emergency. They may overcorrect steering, brake too hard, or be unable to react correctly because they weren't paying attention. And those actions can create a domino effect that has the potential to be dangerous – maybe even fatal.

Mercedes isn't the only automaker chasing the technology. In its announcement that it was moving away from fully autonomous driving, Ford said it would be switching to "internally developed L2+/L3 technology". Audi, BMW, and Volvo have all said they are working on their own Level 3 systems, with California being eyed as the next frontier for testing and deployment. Indeed, Mercedes said it expected approval to start offering its Level 3 system to drivers in the state later this year.

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