What Is Mercedes-Benz's Drive Pilot Autonomous Level 3 System?

The German automaker's Level 3 tech provides more autonomy and less driver engagement.

Mercedes-Benz steering wheel and dashboard displaying Drive Pilot at TecDay BerlinMercedes-Benz

Article QuickTakes:

Almost every new vehicle includes some level of driver-assistance technology designed to make cars feel safer and less tedious to drive, but the latest Mercedes-Benz Drive Pilot system goes even farther as the first Level 3 autonomy driving system available in the U.S.

Previous systems have lacked the hands- and eyes-off abilities brought by autonomous Level 3 driving technology.

What Are the Different Levels of ADAS?

According to the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), there are different levels of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS).

Level 1 ADAS assists drivers, but requires users to keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road. Cars with ADAS features such as adaptive cruise control or lane-keeping assistance, are considered Level 1.

Adding more support to the driver leads to a Level 2 system. So if a vehicle has a full-speed adaptive cruise control system with an automatic steering or lane-centering feature, it qualifies as Level 2.

Some automakers bill their hands-free systems as Level 2, like Ford's BlueCruise and General Motors' Super Cruise. But these systems only offer partial driving automation and only work in certain conditions.

Level 3 systems are designed to provide more autonomy and less driver engagement.

Autonomous Level 3: How Mercedes-Benz's Drive Pilot System Ups the Ante

Level 3 systems, like Mercedes-Benz's Drive Pilot, unlike the partially automated BlueCruise and Super Cruise systems, will allow drivers some hands-off-the-wheel and some degree of eyes-off-the-road driving, letting users check their phones or operate the infotainment system.

Mercedes-Benz Drive Pilot uses an array of advanced technology, including radar, LiDAR, cameras, ultrasound, and moisture sensors. All of the data from these sensors are cross-referenced with a high-precision map to help place the vehicle on the road.

When the system is activated, the steering wheel glows turquoise, and the digital gauge cluster provides information about the vehicle's surroundings and operation. Like those partially automated Level 2 systems, Drive Pilot may need to hand over control back to the driver as it can't drive itself in all conditions. If the driver is unresponsive to this handover process, the car will safely pull over and potentially call first responders for help if the driver is still unresponsive.

A Drive Pilot-equipped vehicle will operate itself on specific highways or in certain conditions, like in traffic at speeds up to 37 mph. However, the driver will need to take over in certain conditions, so don't expect to take a nap or whip out a laptop and start editing spreadsheets.

What Vehicles Offer Autonomous Level 3 Drive Pilot and How Much Does It Cost?

It's important to note that Drive Pilot is yet to be available across the U.S. as regulators still need to approve Level 3 ADAS systems. At time of publication, Drive Pilot is only operational in Nevada, as well as Mercedes' German home market, where the system costs around $5,000 on the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and about $8,000 on the EQS full-size EV luxury sedan.

Time will tell if Mercedes can get wider approval by the end of the year, but if it does, it'll be ahead of the competition with such exciting technology. Of course, even with the arrival of Level 3 ADAS systems, fully automated driving is still a ways off in the future.

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Sami Haj-Assaad
Sami Haj-Assaad is an award-winning automotive journalist who has contributed to several automotive, electric vehicle, luxury lifestyle, and technology publications. His work isn't just limited to the written word, as he's also hosted YouTube videos and podcasts. Having grown up in the '90s, he has a strong sense of attachment to that era's style, though he also loves to geek out about the modern, futuristic tech and powertrains rolling out today.