Mercedes' Level 3 Autonomous Vehicle Certification is Very Ambiguous

Mercedes' Level 3 Autonomous Vehicle Certification is Very Ambiguous

Mercedes' Level 3 Autonomous Vehicle Certification is Very Ambiguous

­Digital Trends recently had the chance to test out the very first production system to achieve Level 3 on the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) autonomy scale, and it’s a neat look at the future of transportation, if a bit ambiguous.

That system is the Mercedes “Drive Pilot,” which realized Level 3 certification in Germany, and according to the SAE, Level 3 means you’re not officially driving, but the system may ask you to step in from time to time (like when it spots emergency vehicles, since it can’t distinguish between an ambulance that wants to get past you and a police cruiser intent on pulling you over).

But there’s the rub – there’s no obvious practical differences between Level 3 certification and what we’re used to in the U.S. (like Tesla’s autopilot, which is Level 2, for all intents and purposes).

With Level 1 and 2, “you are driving whenever these driver support features are engaged – even if your feet are off the pedals and you are not steering.”

You might not have your hands on the wheel with Levels 0-3, but with 0-2, you’re officially the driver, and with Level 3, you’re not. The different appears to be one of liability, now or in the future.

Otherwise, Mercedes’ Drive Pilot is definitely not fully autonomous – the system monitors you for distraction, and it blares a warning if you look away. And if you’re unresponsive for any reason, it theoretically decelerates and pulls over.

So…no taking a nap.

I suppose Mercedes’ Drive Pilot might maintain control longer than Level 0-2 systems, but like its (slightly) less evolved cousins, it can only be used on specific stretches of divided highway (and in daytime with clear weather).

That’s eerily similar to Ford’s BlueCruise system, which can be used in “Hands-Free Blue Zones” amounting to about 130,000 miles of American roads, and blue lighting on the digital instrument cluster indicates when you’re in a hands-free zone.

With Tesla’s Autopilot, and even with its highest classification, “Full Self-Driving Capability,” the company specifically says that it’s “intended for use with a fully attentive driver, who has their hands on the wheel and is prepared to take over at any moment.” With future upgrades, “Full Self-Driving” could obviously be classified at Levels 3-5, but Tesla is covering itself.

So the result is a milestone for Mercedes that’s a tad underwhelming and more than a little ambiguous.