Mercedes Drive Pilot A small step towards autonomous vehicles

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Photo: Mercedes-Benz

Do you know how the world-is technological development really taking hold in our society? It does not use customers as beta testers of extremely dangerous technology; these are small incremental advances that add up to a huge difference. This is the tact that Mercedes Benz is adopting with the autonomous features of its new vehicles.

Enter Drive Pilot, which became the first autonomous system to receive a Tier 3 rating from the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe in December last year. It’s not available in the US, but Mercedes is testing it in California. The automaker took a few automotive journalists for a spin through the crushing Los Angeles traffic to show off its latest technology.

Drive Pilot only works ondefine divided highways without road construction or any other obstacles like toll booths. It must be daylight and the weather must be generally favorable for everything to work perfectly, which is the only way it works. The car won’t change lanes, either, or go over 40 mph.

So, a system that automatically drives a car that runs on sunny, clear days for stop-and-go traffic? It looks like the perfect tech for rush hour on California’s infamous Santa Monica Freeway. Our friends at Autoblog I am okay:

On a short trip (as a passenger) in a new S 580 4Matic along the constricted Santa Monica Freeway (aka “the 10”), the Drive Pilot system performed flawlessly – essentially acting as the smarter adaptive cruise control. If the driver wanted to compose an email or watch a video, the system allowed it. No more need to keep a symbolic finger on the steering wheel to avoid a warning every 15 seconds. Our “driver” – Lucas Bolster, senior automated driving engineer at Mercedes R&D – says Drive Pilot drove him hands-free and eyes averted for a 65-minute rush hour on that same stretch of road. In our brief demo, acceleration and braking was smooth, with no wobbly stops, and there was no ping-pong between lane markers. He was the best kind of driver.

At one point, a lane jumper hinted at a foray into our right rear quarter panel. The Drive Pilot deftly swerved to the left side of the lane. The system will bring the car to the furthest edge of the lane marking, but will not change lanes if the other car’s incursion is insistent (this is a future development which Mercedes says is feasible). If a car imposes itself in front of you, the Mercedes will politely give way. It will not honk in such a case, but will if a car in front decides to reverse towards you.

While that might sound like a lot of caveats, we’ve been trained by those who rushed their own self-driving tech to market to think it needs to be up to Jetson’s level of efficiency right away. But these methodical safety steps are how real sausage is made. It also means that the operator in the driver’s seat of the Mercedes can take their hands off the wheel and their eyes off the road. In these very special circumstances clear, sunny weather, no more than 40 mph on well-marked highways without changing lanes you can experience the true dream of self-driving. Watch a movie, take a nap, and scare other sufferers from traffic stops and starts right next to you.

Currently, you can use Drive Pilot on more than 8,000 autobahn miles in Germany. Mercedes has also tested Drive Pilot for 50,000 miles on US roads in California and Nevada in hopes of making Drive Pilot available to the public soon. And as always, there are no fully self-driving cars on the market today, and there won’t be for years to come, and anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something, probably for 12,000 $ or some other ridiculous amount.