On a blindingly sunny California spring day, I’m sitting in the passenger seat of a customized Mercedes Benz S-Class, casually watching an autonomous delivery robot move through a crosswalk on its way to deliver someone’s takeaway lunch in Santa Monica. As we prepare to merge onto the highway for a demonstration of Mercedes’ Drive Pilot system, a conditional Level 3 automated driving system that consumers may be able to purchase by the end of the year, the test driver next to me chuckles. Mercedes-Benz wants to be the first carmaker to make legal Level 3 autonomous driving available to the general public in its full-size premium S-Class vehicles. The issue is whether it should, given the mountainous obstacles that lie ahead — even if the financial incentives include a slice of the anticipated $220.4 billion autonomous driving industry.
The stakes are very enormous. The Mercedes Level 3 system must do numerous jobs at the same time, including as recording and transferring large quantities of data and providing adequate time and warnings for the human driver to regain control should something goes wrong.
There are legal dangers, which Mercedes has stated it would bear when the technology is activated, as well as geopolitical risks: Mercedes, for example, utilizes the Russian GLONASS system for global location information in Germany. Despite the risks, Mercedes is forging ahead because the potential is simply too great to pass up. While other manufacturers, like as Tesla, claim to have completely autonomous driving systems, Mercedes is the first to clear the necessary legal obstacles in the United States and Germany to offer consumers the conditional system. The device might be in consumers’ driveways as early as mid-2023, but the timeframe is a little hazy because Mercedes is currently working through those legal requirements.
A massive chassis of computer components rests in the trunk of one of the four development cars parked at the Proper Hotel’s garage in Santa Monica. According to the test driver, the trunk is open when we arrive to allow the components to air. There isn’t enough room here for your prized golf bags or baggage.
When the automobile is in normal operation, these components register, record, handle, and upload up to 2.87 GB of data each minute. If an event happens while the car is in motion — say, someone cuts off the development vehicle in traffic and prompts a panic stop — the system collects up to 33.73 terabytes of data so that engineers may investigate and enhance the system. Customers who purchase an S-Class with the Drive Pilot system will not have to worry about computer components taking up valuable trunk space. Some of the data will be maintained on board, but the majority will be uploaded to a secure cloud system.
This information is gathered by a range of sensors located throughout the car, some of which will be unique to future S-Class vehicles equipped with the new Drive Pilot technology. While the business wouldn’t reveal how much the system will cost, reps said it will be comparable to their top-of-the-line Burmester audio system. The S-audio Class’s system is a $6,700 option on its own, but it requires an additional $3,800 package, bringing the total to about $10,500. That’s approaching the price of Tesla’s “Full-Self Driving” system, which costs $12,000 right now.
The conditional Level 3 Drive Pilot system is based on the same technology and software as Mercedes’ Distronic Level 2 ADAS system. It has a few more sophisticated sensors as well as software to handle the new capabilities. An advanced lidar system developed by Valeo SA, a wetness sensor in the wheel well to determine moisture on the road, rear-facing cameras and microphones to detect emergency vehicles, and a special antenna array located at the back of the sunroof to help with precise GPS location are all key hardware systems that will be added to future S-Class vehicles configured with the Drive Pilot upgrade.