Is Mercedes Beating Tesla to the Fully Self-Driving Car?
Look out Tesla, Mercedes-Benz is releasing their Level 3 autonomous driving system in Germany this year. Aptly named Drive Pilot, the system will become available for the S-class and EQS models to drive up to 37 MPH on select German highways. The excitement and fandom of self-driving cars are only exacerbated by decades of anticipation from the public as we have waited for decades for this sci-fi concept to actualize.
The long-awaited release
Believe it or not, the first mock-up of an autonomous car was imagined by none other than Leonardo Da Vinci in the 1500’s. His flying cart theoretically moved without momentum from an outside force using springs under high tension to provide acceleration. Steering was achieved with presets. Not a bad model considering his autonomous car came centuries before the first vehicle was released.
Fast-forward in time to 1939 at the World’s Fair where GM created the first model for an autonomous car running on radio-controlled electromagnetic fields guided by magnetic spikes along the road. This model was a dream turned reality in 1958, and the sensor guiding tech used to guide the model was used later in history for nearly all models of autonomous vehicles.
James Adams’ “Stanford Cart” Photo Credit: Stanford
The autonomous vehicle arms race today
The year 2010 marked the beginning of the highly competitive autonomous vehicle arms race we see today. Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Tesla, and BMW, as well as rideshare programs like Uber went head to head to create the a vehicle more aesthetically pleasing than James Adams’ “Stanford Cart” but also drivable without the looming threat of accidents, lawsuits and money circling the innovative drain.
One of the most prominent advances in early driverless history came from none other than Tesla in 2015 with the release of their Tesla Version 7.0. The Version 7.0 allowed for Tesla Model S drivers to utilize two features: adaptive cruise control and autosteer designed to keep the Tesla driving on its own on roads and highways.
Competition in the ring
Proceeding the Tesla Version 7.0, the competition produced two new players rather unexpectedly. The first contender, Apple Car, announced their engineers and innovators were on the case since early 2017, Apple has been rigorously testing self-driving vehicles in the heart of California. Using 2015 Lexus RX450h SUV’s the company can be seen with cameras on every angle of over 60 vehicles currently testing on the road.
The second contender, Google Waymo, announced their autonomous driving systems had collectively driven over 300,000 miles under computer control without any accidents or serious incidents. Widely held a secret, Waymo is now out of the shadows as one to watch against the Drive Pilot.
With the competition high, it came to a surprise to auto enthusiasts when the Mercedes-Benz Drive Pilot achieved Level 3 certification in 2021. Standing tall as the first vehicle to achieve Level 3, the Drive Pilot is now approved to drive on approximately 8,200 miles of highway and roadways in Germany. The next step for the Drive Pilot is international distribution, which currently does not pass international certification from China and the United States. Certification will, however, be available in Germany sometime in the first half of 2022.
When can we expect to see the Drive Pilot in the US?
Drive Pilot's much anticipated availability in the United States is heavily dependent on the NHTSA’s clarified rules and regulations for Level 3, Level 4, and Level 5 autonomous systems that are not clear on where and how these vehicles and drive on American roads. Additionally, the German manufacturing company has not released details on if they are interested in sending the Drive Pilot to the states just yet.
Regardless of when and if the Drive Pilot will make its way to the US, this new development and certification grant brings the iconic German manufacturer one step closer to winning the highly coveted self-driving arms race for international use. But who knows, maybe Tesla has something up their sleeves.
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