Mercedes Drive Pilot Arriving in CA, NV with Level 3 Autonomy

Jackson Wheeler
10 Min Read


  • Mercedes-Benz will introduce its Drive Pilot Level 3 autonomous driving package to the US market later this year on select 2024 S-Class and EQS sedan models in California and Nevada. It’s a $2500 annual subscription.
  • The system lets you take your hands off the wheel and your eyes off the road in stop-and-go traffic in certain large cities in those two states. But no sleeping!
  • The system only works under 40 mph and with a car in front of you.

Depending on how you define it, cruise control has been around since the first steam trains took to the tracks, when a governor was placed among the controls to maintain track speed over a given distance.

But for our purposes, according to a publication called The Keesler News, one M-Sgt. Frank J. Riley invented and installed on his own car a “constant speed regulator” in 1948 for his use cruising down the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Other such devices followed, most better than the last, until now, when Mercedes-Benz has launched Drive Pilot, the first true SAE Level 3 autonomous driving system licensed in the US.

Sergeant Riley would be floored. You might be, too.

white mercedes eqs with drive pilot in la trafficClick for gallery

Who’s the most serene in this LA traffic scene? The Mercedes owner, with Drive Pilot!

Mercedes

At speeds up to 40 mph, Mercedes’ Drive Pilot takes over full control of your car—acceleration, braking, and steering—allowing you to basically goof off. You can watch YouTube videos on your central infotainment screen, send text messages, or just gaze out the window in wonder.

The Society of Automotive Engineers has established five levels of autonomous driving. Level 1 is just basically cruise control with radar sensors maintaining a safe distance from the car in front of you. Level 2 does that and steers as well, but you have to either keep your hands on the wheel, your eyes on the road, or both.

Level 3 scans the traffic around the car, and reacts appropriately to it, just as a real, live, sober, human would. Drive Pilot qualifies as Level 3, allowing you to take your eyes off the road and your hands off the wheel.

“The transition from Level 2 to Level 3 is the really big thing,” said Gregor Kugelman, head of driver assistance systems and automated functions for Mercedes-Benz.

Lidar, Cameras, and Lots of Sensors

Mercedes has offered this system on its S-Class in Germany for over two years. Drive Pilot enlists more than 15 separate safety systems and brings them all together to steer the car for you. Those systems include but are not limited to:

  • Active Steering Assist with Active Lane Change Assist
  • Active Brake Assist with pedestrian and bicycle detection, cross-traffic detection and congestion emergency braking function
  • Active Distance Assist Distronic that includes Active Speed Limit Assist and Active Stop-and-Go Assist
  • Evasive Steering Assist

Other safety technologies include: Lidar in the front grille, redundant steering systems in case one goes out, radar to measure the speed and distance of cars around you, two cameras facing forward, ultrasonic sensors to detect near-vehicle surroundings, and a special antenna array on the roof to give highly accurate positioning.

If you live in LA and have to drive frequently during rush hour, you want this.

There’s even a microphone in the wheel well to detect if there’s moisture on the road and a microphone inside the car to listen for sirens on emergency vehicles, both of which will result in the Drive Pilot handing back control to you. With all that (and more) you have everything the car needs in order to safely drive itself and you through boring stop-and-go city traffic jams.

If you live in LA and have to drive frequently during rush hour, you want this.

While Mercedes offered rides in a Drive Pilot-equipped E-Class last year, last week M-B let me take the wheel—or rather, let it take the wheel. My ride was a red EQS 580 sedan that appeared mostly stock inside and out.

There are turquoise-colored lights on the exterior that illuminate when the system is working, both to let other drivers know what’s going on and to let police know not to ticket you for texting while driving.

Inside, there are buttons on the steering wheel to engage the system. You have to be on one of the freeways in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, or one of the roadways Mercedes has mapped out for Drive Pilot. And there has to be a car in front of you. Given those circumstances, just press one of the wheel-mounted buttons and voila! You’re relaxed!

I drove onto the Santa Monica Freeway during rush hour, starting on the end down by the beach, and almost immediately encountered traffic. Drive Pilot took over seamlessly and I was no longer in charge—instead, thousands of German engineers were, or the sum total of their work was.

“So, what do you want to do,” asked the Mercedes engineer from the passenger seat. “Here’s a game I like,” she said.

Expensive Technology, but There’s Shuffle Puck!

And with that we started playing Shuffle Puck, which was kind of like digital Air Hockey. We played it on the infotainment screen. You line up a colored disc, aim it at another colored disc, and try to thwap a third colored disc into the goal. She was very good at it and I lost two games to three.

But the funny thing was, almost immediately upon launching the game, I forgot I was sitting in traffic. It wasn’t until a few games into the session that I looked up and realized we were still in “soul-destroying traffic,” and I was still in the driver’s seat. That was a bit disconcerting, but only for a second.

I returned to Shuffle Puck, trying to salvage my chance of winning. I didn’t, but Drive Pilot had transported me away from the miserable slog of Interstate 10 and into a silly game. Later, we watched videos. Then I checked my emails (still not fired!). It was some sort of German-engineering miracle.

Not far from here, Musk the Great and Powerful had a tunnel dug so he could avoid traffic on the 405-105 transition. Tunnels would be nice, telecommuting would be nice. But before that happens, Drive Pilot is far nicer.

You can get Drive Pilot at select Mercedes dealers later this year. The system is fully installed via subscription through the U.S. “Mercedes me” connect store for specific S-Class and EQS sedans. You can’t retrofit it onto existing cars, and you can’t have it retrofit on a new car that doesn’t have it already installed from the factory.

The price is $2500 a year, which is steep, but Drive Pilot has a lot of electronics attached. Before you can use it, you have to watch a seven-minute video that explains what it is and how it works. But then, go ahead and dive into traffic. You may actually look forward to your commute.

Are you prepared to sit in a car while Level 3 technology negotiates traffic? Please comment below.

Headshot of Mark Vaughn

Mark Vaughn grew up in a Ford family and spent many hours holding a trouble light over a straight-six miraculously fed by a single-barrel carburetor while his father cursed Ford, all its products and everyone who ever worked there. This was his introduction to objective automotive criticism. He started writing for City News Service in Los Angeles, then moved to Europe and became editor of a car magazine called, creatively, Auto. He decided Auto should cover Formula 1, sports prototypes and touring cars—no one stopped him! From there he interviewed with Autoweek at the 1989 Frankfurt motor show and has been with us ever since.

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Jackson Wheeler is a skilled editor at Speedofdaily.com, specializing in automotive content. With a background in Journalism and Automotive Engineering, he combines his passion for cars with his writing expertise to deliver captivating articles. Jackson's deep knowledge of automotive technology and his racing experience make him a valuable asset to the team, providing readers with informative and engaging content.
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