Mercedes-Benz today released details of the sales launch of ‘Drive Pilot’ in Germany. As per reports, this makes Mercedes-Benz the first car manufacturer in the world with an international valid certification for conditional automated driving, to offer such a system as an option ex-works for vehicles from series production. Drive Pilot enables customers to hand the driving task over to the system under certain conditions in heavy traffic or congestion situations on suitable motorway sections in Germany up to a speed of 60 km/h. For customers, this means the ultimate driving experience. They can relax or work and win back valuable time.
After activating Drive Pilot, the system controls the speed and distance, and guides the vehicle within its lane. The route profile, events occurring on the route and traffic signs are all analysed and taken into consideration. Drive Pilot also reacts to unexpected traffic situations and handles them independently, e.g. by means of evasive manoeuvres within the lane or by using braking manoeuvres. Mercedes-Benz’s system for conditionally automated driving (SAE-Level 3) builds on the vehicle sensing technology of the Driving Assistance Package and includes additional sensors that the manufacturer considers indispensable for safe operation. These mainly include radar, LiDAR and cameras, but ultrasound and moisture sensors also provide valuable data. In parallel to the successful launch of Drive Pilot in Germany, Mercedes-Benz aims to obtain regulatory series approval for the two US states of California and Nevada by the end of the year, provided the legal situation permits the system operation.
“Mercedes-Benz is the first manufacturer to put a Level 3 system with international valid certification into series production. As a first step, we are offering this world-leading technology in Germany in the S-Class and the EQS. At the same time, we also want to receive certification in the U.S. by the end of the year. Responsible handling of future technologies such as conditional automated driving is the key to acceptance among customers and in society. With Drive Pilot, we have developed an innovative technology that, thanks to redundancies with many sensors, enables safe operation and gives the valuable asset ‘time’ back to the customer”, says Britta Seeger, Member of the Board of Management of Mercedes‑Benz Group AG, responsible for Marketing & Sales.
Redundancy for safe conditionally automated driving
Conditionally automated vehicle operation according to SAE-Level 3 requires a system design that must enable any malfunctions – both simple and more serious – to be managed safely. The redundant architecture includes the brake system, the steering, the power supply as well as parts of the sensor technology such as those for environment awareness and driving dynamics calculation. The battery, steering motor, wheel speed sensors and the various algorithms used by the system to calculate the data also have a redundant design. In addition, parts of the sensor technology are also functionally redundant, as they complement each other with their different physical concepts (e.g. optical, ultrasonic, radio waves), thereby enabling safe transfer.
In the unlikely event of a malfunction, the vehicle remains manoeuvrable due to its redundant system design, allowing Drive Pilot to perform a safe handover to the driver. If the driver does not comply with the takeover request within the maximum allotted time of ten seconds, for example due to a medical emergency, Drive Pilot promptly initiates an emergency stop that is safe both for the vehicle and the following traffic. For this purpose, the Intelligent Drive Controller continuously calculates the optimum trajectory for coming to a safe stop. Meanwhile, the manoeuvrability of Drive Pilot is designed to keep the vehicle within its lane and avoid collisions with other road users and objects on the road.
Precise positioning for operating DRIVE PILOT
The exact location of a Mercedes equipped with Drive Pilot is determined using a high-precision positioning system that is much more powerful than conventional GPS systems. In addition to the anonymised data collected by LiDAR, camera, radar and ultrasound sensors, a digital HD map provides a three-dimensional image of the road and the surroundings with information on road geometry, route characteristics, traffic signs and special traffic events (e.g. accidents or road works). This high-precision map differs from maps for navigation devices by, among other things, its higher accuracy in the centimetre rather than metre range and its detailed junction and route model.
The map data is stored in backend data centres and updated constantly. Each vehicle also stores an image of this map information on board, constantly compares it with the backend data and updates the local dataset as required. All of this enables stable and accurate positioning through a representation of the surroundings that is independent of factors such as shadows or dirty sensors.
DRIVE PILOT: Legally compliant on the road
Mercedes-Benz is ensuring that the new technology is being put on the road in a legally compliant manner. Engineers, lawyers, compliance managers, data protection officers and ethics experts have all worked together in the development process. One basis for automated driving is provided by additional control mechanisms, for example: For safety-relevant functions such as pedestrian detection, the Mercedes-Benz’ engineers deliberately do not use algorithms, for example through self-learning approaches. The focus is more so on what is known as “supervised learning” – that means Mercedes-Benz defines and control what the artificial intelligence is allowed to learn. Before the AI software is used on the roads, extensive validation testing is carried out to ensure that the AI works as desired in real traffic conditions.
In the case of pedestrian detection, AI helps the system to identify objects and situations on and next to the road quickly and safely. The car manufacturer’s ethical requirement is that the detection process is non-discriminatory. This means that the vehicle’s various sensors permanently monitor the road and the roadside, to always detect people correctly, regardless of their clothing, body size, posture or other characteristics.
Legal framework: Germany is a pioneer in automated driving
With the opening up of the Road Traffic Act (StVG) for Level 3 systems in 2017, Germany was the first country to create a legal basis for the intended use of these systems. The technical approval regulation with which such a system can be certified did not come into force until the beginning of 2021. Since then, it can be implemented in Europe – an opportunity that Mercedes-Benz was quick, and the first manufacturer, to seize. Mercedes-Benz is the first automotive company in the world to meet the demanding legal requirements of UN Regulation No. 157 for a Level 3 system.
In detail, this results in requirements for the vehicle and duties for the driver: In conditional automated driving mode, the vehicle must master the driving task safely and comply with all traffic regulations. The driver still has duties in public road traffic, in particular to comply with other traffic regulations. To this end, the driver must remain ready to take over and resume control when requested by Drive Pilot or due to obvious circumstances.
Mercedes-Benz reports that the system for conditionally automated driving (SAE Level 3) can be ordered from May 17, 2022 as an optional extra for the S-Class for 5,000 Euro and for the EQS for 7,430 Euro (Driver Assistance Package Plus: 2,430 Euro and DRIVE PILOT: 5,000 Euro) excl. VAT.