Mercedes first to sell vehicles in California with hands-free, eyes-off automated driving

Mercedes-Benz received a permit from California regulators that will allow the German automaker to sell or lease vehicles in the state equipped with a conditional automated driving system that allows for hands-off, eyes-off driving on certain highways.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles said Thursday it issued an autonomous vehicle deployment permit to Mercedes-Benz for its branded Drive Pilot system. The hands-off, eyes-off system can be used on designated California highways, including Interstate 15, under certain conditions without the active control of a human driver. This means drivers can watch videos, text or talk to a passenger (or even mess around with any number of third-party apps coming to new Mercedes models) without watching the road ahead or having their hands on the wheel.

Mercedes-Benz is the fourth company to receive an autonomous vehicle deployment permit in California and the first authorized to sell or lease vehicles with an automated driving system to the public, according to the DMV, which regulates autonomous vehicles in the state. The deployment permit allows Drive Pilot to be used on highways in the Bay area, central valley, Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Diego.

Drive Pilot is not the same as the fully autonomous systems developed by Waymo, Cruise, Motional and Zoox — although some of the same principles apply. The Drive Pilot system uses a combination of sensors such as lidar, radar and camera coupled with software to handle driving tasks in certain conditions without the active control of a human driver. Mercedes’ system is only available at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour, during daylight hours on certain highways. The system will not engage on city or county roads, in construction zones, during heavy rain or heavy fog, on flooded roads and during weather conditions that are determined to impact performance of the system, according to the DMV.

mercedes drive pilot

Image Credits: Abigail Bassett

The systems developed by Waymo and others are designed to operate at higher speeds, during the day and night on public roads, and the human passenger is never expected to take over.

The DMV has placed other conditions on Mercedes, including that vehicle owners must watch a mandatory video explaining the capabilities of the system and how to engage and disengage the technology before they can access it. Mercedes also has to meet a number of safety, insurance and vehicle registration requirements.

Mercedes has taken a conservative approach to its Drive Pilot system, requesting approval from every U.S. state’s regulatory body even in cases where there is not a direct restriction from using such technology. The automaker first deployed Drive Pilot in Germany. It received approval from Nevada earlier this year.

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