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Benz beats Tesla to hands-free driving

Mercedes-Benz gains regulatory approval for Level 3 autonomous driving in Germany

10 Dec 2021

MERCEDES-BENZ will soon be able to offer Level 3 autonomous driving ability in its vehicles following a recent decision to permit the company to deploy its Drive Pilot hands-free driving system in Germany.


The approval to sell Drive Pilot – which may be used on Germany’s autobahn road network at speeds of up to 60km/h – means Mercedes-Benz has beaten Tesla in coming through the country’s strict approval process, giving the Three-pointed Star an advantage in the race to offer higher levels of automation in one of the world’s most fiercely contested car markets.


Drive Pilot ranks one step above Tesla’s current (Level 2) Autopilot system by allowing drivers to take their hands off the wheel in slow-moving traffic. The system will be available optionally in S-Class and EQS models from mid next year, Mercedes-Benz said. It did not divulge how much the system will cost.


Germany’s Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt (KBA), the country’s motor transport authority, announced the world-first type approval under a UN scheme (No. 157) which defines the technical guidelines for autonomous driving under “internationally harmonised safety requirements for automated lane keeping systems”.


Beyond the UN regulation, individual countries must also pass legislation relating to where, when, and how Level 3 self-driving technology may be used and define associated issues of liability.


“The KBA is setting national, European, and international standards in road safety on the road to autonomous driving,” KBA president Richard Damm said.


“We have set these standards to help build the trust of consumers in these new technologies, and to help create this trust, we have applied strict standards (for the use of Drive Pilot), which will need to be adhered to as this technology evolves.”


Part of the regulations relating to the use of Drive Pilot and similar systems state that the “vehicle driver must be ready at any time to take control of the vehicle after a takeover request”.


The approval currently only applies to use within German borders, but will assist the company in gaining regulatory approval in other countries. Daimler chief technology officer Markus Schaefer says Mercedes-Benz will offer Drive Pilot in China and the USA as soon as legislation allows it.


“Drive Pilot enables the driver to turn away from traffic and focus on certain secondary activities. For example, to communicate with colleagues via the in-car office, to write emails, to surf the internet, or to relax and watch a film,” Mercedes-Benz said in a statement.


Tesla, Waymo, and other companies have been trying to gain regulatory approval for Level 3 self-driving for technology in Germany for several years. 


Tesla faced court action in Germany last year after promotion of its Autopilot system was branded as “misleading”. The Wettbewerbszentrale (Germany’s equivalent of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) objected to Tesla’s use of the term “full potential for autonomous driving” used in marketing material associated with the Model 3; it suggested the phrase countered German law, which, at the time, prohibited fully autonomous driving.


Although optimistic about the self-driving capabilities of his cars, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has previously reiterated that drivers “must always be fully attentive and ready to take over driving at any time”, as per the guidelines set out by Germany’s latest Level 3 type approval.


Mr Musk said his company was “very close” to reaching similar approval to Mercedes-Benz for Level 3 autonomous driving capabilities in Tesla vehicles.

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