Mercedes-Benz plans to debut its own semi-autonomous system on the refreshed S-Class sedan, due in the 2020 lineup, according to an Automotive News interview with the company’s head of research. The system will offer what the Society of Automotive Engineers refers to as “Level 3” autonomy, which means the car can drive itself in certain situations without any driver input, with the caveat that said driver needs to be ready to take over in case of an emergency.
This kind of driver assistance package would be on par with what Audi built into the 2019 A8. Audi’s system — called Traffic Jam Pilot — handles starts, stops, turns, and more while allowing the driver to take their eyes off the road. It would be a step ahead of other current Level 2 systems, like Tesla’s Autopilot or GM’s Super Cruise. (Though, Tesla has promised Autopilot will soon become more robust after the company’s latest software update recently rolled out.) And it would mark a significant leap forward from Mercedes-Benz’s existing driver assistance package, Drive Pilot, which received some not-so-favorable reviews.
Much like Audi’s Level 3 system, Mercedes-Benz could wind up with a product that only works in certain places. Regulations regarding driver assistance features like Traffic Jam Pilot can vary from country to country and even state by state. Audi, for instance, decided it didn’t want to deal with the United States’ patchwork regulatory framework, and opted instead to kneecap Traffic Jam Pilot on its cars in this country.
There’s also growing apprehension over whether Level 3 technology is a good idea in the first place. The most major concern is that, if a car is smart enough to drive itself in almost every setting, it might create a false sense of security that could imperil the human driver in an emergency. Google abandoned its pursuit of a system where both the computer and driver could fully control the car for this very reason, after finding the human drivers were easily distracted while the computer was driving. Toyota has expressed similar concerns, and Ford is essentially running a two-track path to autonomy, with a Level 2 system coming to its consumer cars and Level 4 technology — fully self-driving in designated areas — coming to a ride-hailing service in 2021.