According to the manufacturer, customers will be able to purchase a correspondingly equipped vehicle in the first half of 2022. Initially, however, only the flagship models of the S-Class and its electrically driven counterpart, the EQS, will be equipped with this feature called “Drive Pilot”. The Drive Pilot manages speeds up to 60 km/h, and its application is limited to motorways. However, the system is also capable of driving in heavy traffic and in stop-and-go mode. Autonomy level 3 allows the driver to turn away from traffic and pursue secondary activities. However, should the electronics or sensors fail, the driver must be able to take control at any time within a few seconds.
Mercedes Drive Pilot: Sensor technology and redundancy.
Drive Pilot uses extensive environmental sensor technology with various redundancy and fallback levels. These include radar and lidar as well as a camera in the rear window and microphones, especially for detecting signal horns from emergency vehicles, as well as a wetness sensor in the wheel arch. In addition to the sensor data, the system receives information on road geometry, route characteristics, traffic signs and special traffic events such as accidents or road works from an HD map. This is made available and updated via a backend connection. The Drive Pilot also has redundant steering and braking systems as well as a redundant on-board network to remain manoeuvrable even if one of these systems fails and to ensure a safe handover to the driver.
If the driver does not take over control of the vehicle even after an escalated takeover request and expiry of the takeover time, the system brakes the vehicle to a standstill in a controlled manner and with an appropriate delay as part of a safety stop. At the same time, the hazard warning lights and, when stationary, the emergency call system are activated and the doors and windows are unlocked.
When designing the Mercedes-Benz system, safety was given top priority, the company says. This includes high demands on operational safety. The exact location of the vehicle is determined using a high-precision positioning system. This is more exact than conventional GPS systems. In addition, the data determined by satellite navigation is compared with sensor data and data from an HD map. Sensor data acquired by lidar, camera and radar sensors provide information on road geometry, route characteristics, landmarks and traffic signs.
The HD map provides a 3D image of the road and its surroundings. The map data is stored in back-end data centres and constantly updated. Each suitably equipped vehicle stores an image of this map information locally, compares it constantly with the backend data and updates the local data set. The HD map thus provides stable positioning through environment representation independent of e.g. shadowing or dirty sensors. It also provides information on road geometry or special traffic events such as road works. This high-precision map differs from maps for navigation devices by, among other things, its higher accuracy in the centimetre instead of metre range and its detailed intersection and lane model.
A high-performance central computer implements the sophisticated software functions required for highly automated driving. As part of the safety architecture, critical algorithms are calculated redundantly.
During the automated journey, the system allows the driver to take his mind off the traffic and focus on certain secondary activities. For example, writing e-mails, surfing the Internet or watching a film in a relaxed atmosphere. In Drive Pilot mode, applications can be enabled on the central display integrated in the vehicle that are otherwise blocked while driving.
“With the approval from the authorities, we have achieved a breakthrough: We are the first manufacturer to put highly automated driving into series production in Germany,” says Markus Schäfer, Chief Technology Officer at Mercedes-Benz AG. “With this milestone, we are ushering in a radical paradigm shift. Because for the first time in 136 years of automotive history, the vehicle will take over the dynamic driving task under certain conditions.”
Initially, the system can be used on the German Autobahn network © Mercedes-Benz
Mercedes-Benz is initially offering Drive Pilot in Germany for journeys on motorways – that is, after all, more than 13,000 kilometres of road. Test drives of the system are already underway in the USA and China, for example. As soon as there is a national legal framework for highly automated operation in additional markets, which in particular permits a diversion from the driving task, the international introduction will take place step by step.
Germany has taken a pioneering role in this respect with the opening of the Road Traffic Act (StVG) for Level 3 systems in 2017. This means that the conditions for highly automated driving at level 3 of the SAE system are fulfilled within Germany. The technical approval regulation with which such a system can be certified came into force at the beginning of 2021. Since then, it can be implemented in Europe. With the opening of the Road Traffic Act (StVG) for Level 3 systems in 2017, Germany was the first country to create a legal basis for the intended use of these systems.