While most of the conversation’s focus on self-driving tech has been on Tesla and its Autopilot and Full Self Driving systems (for better and for worse), the American firm isn’t the only brand working on Level 3 and beyond autonomy.
Mercedes-Benz has a record with these kinds of technologies. Chiefly, they were the first brand to debut an adaptive cruise control system following the turn of the millennium. Almost two decades on, the three-pointed star is now destined to debut the first recognised legal hands-off Level 3 autonomous driving system.
As a refresher, the prime difference between a Level 2 and Level 3 system is that with the latter, the driver is allowed to take their hands off the steering wheel and give the car full control when the system is activated. That said, drivers still have to be ready to take over the controls at any moment.
For all the hype around various Level 2 systems, including Tesla Full Self Driving, it isn’t strictly legal for those operating cars with these systems enabled to take their hands off the wheel for a long length of time.
In a statement published over the weekend, Mercedes says its Level 3 system is the first to gain an “internationally valid system approval”. The system will debut in the S-Class and electric EQS.
Specifically, the system adheres to a United Nations regulation set known as UN-R157. The rules set in the standard require automated lane-keep systems in cars to jump through a selection of safety hoops in order to prove that they’re safe enough to be let loose on public roads next to other commuters.
The document is a reasonably lengthy one, as you’d expect given the scope of legalising cars that can drive themselves. It touches on the specifics on how systems should behave during crash avoidance, how quickly they should react, and many other parameters.
The Mercedes-Benz system isn’t the only Level 3 autonomous system on the market, with Audi and Honda having both boasted some form of Level 3 functionality. But Mercedes’ version is the only one that has been given the UN’s seal of approval.
In accordance with the UN’s regulations, the Mercedes system has already been confirmed to adhere to the local road regulations of a long list of countries from around the world, including Australia and New Zealand. Although it’s worth noting that all countries, even those named in the UN document, will govern the legalities around self-driving cars as they see fit.