May 26, 2022

I’m in The passenger seat of a special Mercedes-Benz S-Class, on a clear spring day in California, casually watches as an autonomous delivery robot crosses a pedestrian crossing to deliver takeaway food to someone in Santa Monica. The test driver next to me laughs as we merge onto the highway to demonstrate the Mercedes Drive Pilot system, a conditionally Level 3 automatic driving system that consumers will be able to order by the end of this year.

Mercedes aims to be the first automaker to legally introduce automatic driving on the Level 3 test track to the general public in its full-size S-Class luxury vehicles. The question is whether it should be, especially given the Everest-sized challenge ahead, even if the economic opportunity includes a $220.4 billion self-driving market.

The stakes are also high. Level 3 Mercedes systems need to perform multiple tasks simultaneously, including recording and exchanging large amounts of data, as well as giving the driver enough time and warnings when something happens to the side. There are legal risks that Mercedes has promised to take if the system is enabled, and there are even geopolitical risks: Mercedes is using Russia’s GLONASS system to obtain global location information for Germany, for example.

And yet Mercedes plows through, despite the risks, because it’s too good to ignore the opportunity. While other manufacturers such as Tesla claim they have a fully autonomous driving system, Mercedes is the first to remove the legal hurdles required in the US and Germany to offer consumers a conditional system. While the timeline is a little hazy as Mercedes is still developing these regulatory requirements, the system could be in consumer hands and on their roads by mid-2023.


mercedes driving pilot

image creditStory by: Abigail Bassett

A giant chassis of computer components sits in the trunk of one of four experimental cars parked in the garage of the Proper Hotel in Santa Monica. “When we arrive, the trunk will be open to allow the parts to breathe,” the test driver said. There is no room for your coveted golf bag or luggage.

These components register, register, manage and download 2.87 GB of data per minute when the vehicle is running normally. If an incident occurs along the path of a vehicle, such as a person crashing into a development vehicle and being forced to stop in a panic, the system consumes 33.73 gigabytes of data, allowing technicians to see what is happening and improve the system.

Buyers of S-Class vehicles equipped with Drive Pilot will not have to deal with computer components that take up space in the trunk. Instead, the vehicle will still be present in cars, so the Tier 3 system will operate, process, and store large amounts of data. Some of this data is stored on board, while most is uploaded to secure cloud systems.

This data comes from various sensors around the car, some of which will be new to future S-Class vehicles with the new Drive Pilot system. Although the company does not disclose the exact cost of the system, its representatives have said that it will cost the same as their top-of-the-line Burmester audio system. This audio system alone costs $6,700 for the S-Class, but it requires a separate $3,800 package, bringing the total to around $10,500. That’s close to the cost of Tesla’s “full autonomous driving” system, which currently costs $12,000.

The Conditional Level 3 Drive Pilot System is based on the hardware and software used by the Mercedes ADAS level 2 system called Distronic. It adds several additional advanced sensors as well as software to support its features. Key hardware systems that will be added to future S-Class vehicles equipped with the Drive Pilot update include an advanced LiDAR system developed by Velio SA, a wheel arch humidity sensor to detect road humidity, and rear-view cameras. . Emergency vehicle detection assistance and a special antenna array behind the sunroof for accurate GPS positioning.

The Valeo LiDAR system is more advanced than the current generation S-Class as it scans at 25 times per second from a distance of 200 meters (about 650+ feet). Speaking at the event, a Velio spokesperson said that this is the second generation of the system. The system emits lasers that then point into space, allowing the AI ​​to classify the type of object in and around the vehicle’s path, be it a person, animal, vehicle, tree, or building. From there, the AI ​​uses data from other sensors around the car to determine for itself more than 400 different predicted paths and possible paths for vehicles, pedestrians and motorcyclists in its vicinity, and chooses the safest route.

The moisture sensor is a small round sound sensor located behind the driver’s front wheel well that detects how wet the road surface is. When the road is wet, drops scatter on it, making an audible roar. When the system “hears” this knock, the driver stops and the person in the driver’s seat has to deal with it.

The antenna array on the roof of the S-Class uses several satellites to determine the exact location of the car to within a few centimeters. It is enough to accurately determine in which lane the car is located on the highway. Mercedes says it is relying on Galileo and GPS in the US and Russia’s GLONASS system in Germany for situational awareness. These precise GPS points are integrated into an HD map, which then helps the system navigate the real world.

These sensors are added to the already existing distronic system, which includes cameras in the cabin to keep the driver’s attention, as well as radar, ultrasonic and 3D cameras on the outside. The added hardware should ensure that each system is redundant and provides a more accurate view of both the interior and exterior of the vehicle as the system navigates the environment and, unlike Tesla systems, ensures that the driver is actually paying attention and not paying attention. attention. Do not sleep or watch movies while the system is running.

There is a reason for all these precise and specialized tools. Mercedes-Benz assumes responsibility, including responsibility for the safe operation of the system. If something goes wrong and the system breaks down while the user is using it, the legal consequences can be huge.

New Rules for Tier 3 Operations

Mercedes has used the vehicles for pilot testing on more than 50,000 miles of roads in California and Nevada, where the company has conditional licenses to use the system.

Once the legal hurdles are cleared, which Mercedes says will be in place by the end of the year, the systems will be available on well-equipped S-Class vehicles under certain conditions. However, it will still be limited.

The system is only available in states where it is legal (currently California, Nevada, and Florida). Cross the Arizona or Utah border in an S-Class with Drive Pilot and the system will be unavailable. It is geofenced.

With the exception of a government location, the system will only activate if the vehicle is on clearly marked divided highways, freeways, or freeways and is driving in a single lane, not an exit lane. While we were driving, a test rider walked up to the exit and the system was disabled, asking him to take over as soon as he indicated he was rebuilding.

And even if all these requirements are met, the system is only available up to a speed of 60 km/h.


Mercedes-Benz Drive Pilot

When DRIVE PILOT is activated, the controls on the steering wheel are illuminated in turquoise. image: Mercedes Benz

Inside, the car looks nearly identical to the S-Class with one key difference: the steering wheel has a pair of buttons that slide right under the driver’s thumb. Engraved with an image of the front of the vehicle with an “A” at the top, these buttons are used to start the Level 3 system when environmental conditions are met. The indicators around the buttons and steering column turn white when the system is available and greenish blue when it is on.

Our short trip took us down Route 10 in Los Angeles to downtown Los Angeles and back to Santa Monica. The traffic was heavy with stops and there were many opportunities for the system to fail. During the first few minutes on the highway, we encountered a number of obstacles such as plastic bags, cardboard boxes and more than one unsuspecting Angeleno who panicked and passed out in our lane indiscriminately.

In the short period when the system was available and all conditions were met, the work went without problems. The transmission was smooth and almost imperceptible. The driver installed the system, took his hands and feet off the steering wheel and let the car drive on its own without taking his eyes off the road.

The system uses the maximum following distance when enabled, so the gap between the S-Class and the car in front was quite large. Surprisingly and unfortunately, no one dared to jump into this gap with the system on, so we did not experience if a person suddenly changed lanes in front of a car while operating a conditional level 3 system. So what can happen? When the system loses important information, such as when lane markings (also known as oreos) become weak, an audible alarm sounds and a message appears asking the driver to take possession of the vehicle. At this point, the test driver will drive the vehicle.

Overall, the system was on for only 10 minutes during our 30-minute drive. Each command was relatively short as the traffic speed exceeded 40 mph or the system was losing information needed to control the traffic. The very short trip didn’t give us enough time to evaluate the system, but gave us an idea of ​​how Level 3 autonomy might work in the near future. The real question, however, is how the system will behave in the hands of customers, and whether even the very wealthy will buy the technology.

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