As conversations around what the Society of Automobile Engineers defines as differing levels of self-driving cars, people are anticipating — or dreading — what these changes will mean for society.
Anyone whose livelihood depends on driving isn’t too keen on the existential threat autonomous vehicles pose. In contrast, some car owners couldn't be more excited about the possibility of never having to drive their vehicles ever again.
However, for most consumers, the kind of self-driving car tech with their imaginations (or fears) running wild won’t be widely available for some time.
Cars that can fully drive themselves in any condition at any time in any location are labeled an SAE level 5. Most vehicles are only currently available with SAE level 2 drive modes. This is what makes Mercedes-Benz’s new drive pilot mode so unique: it’s an SAE level 3.
The In’s and Out’s of Mercedes Drive Pilot
Mercedes Drive Pilot program, also known as driver-assist, must show US car owners a seven-minute video explaining how it works. This is part of the mandate that allows SAE level 3 vehicles to be operated on the streets of California and Nevada.
The video only needs to be watched the first time someone uses the feature. Any time after that, a prompt will show up, and the driver just needs to verify that they understand how Drive Pilot works before they can operate the vehicle.
When the vehicle's computer senses that it’s being operated under the necessary circumstances to facilitate Drive Pilot mode, tiny lights on the steering wheel will turn white, indicating that Drive Pilot mode is ready to be activated.
Next to these lights on the steering column are tiny switches. If the vehicle's driver decides they want to engage in Drive Pilot mode, they have to press one of the switches, the lights will flash to green, and the car’s SAE level 3 driving mode will take over.
It’s that simple.
Once Drive Pilot mode is initiated, the vehicle reportedly smoothly operates itself, using algorithms to determine hundreds of possible driving maneuvers it may make in real time.
Driving Conditions Need To Meet These Requirements for Drive Pilot Mode
However, the vehicle’s smooth sailing can only continue if conditions remain optimal for Drive Pilot mode to stay activated.
The vehicle must be driving in daylight, be traveling under 37 miles per hour, road conditions must be dry, and the outside temperature cannot dip below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
If any of those things happen, the steering column lights will change to red, signaling to the driver that they have 10 seconds to retake control of the vehicle. If the driver decides they want to take back control of the vehicle at any time, all they have to do is tap the brakes or touch the steering wheel, and the car will be under their command once again.
If a driver doesn’t re-engage control of the vehicle within 10 seconds of the lights flashing red, Drive Pilot mode will gently pull over and bring the car to a stop, with the hazards flashing while automatically unlocking the doors.
In this instance, the car assumes the driver is impaired and that there’s an emergency, so the doors are unlocked so that first responders can easily get to the driver.
But as long as proper driving conditions keep Drive Pilot in the green, its smooth ride allows drivers to do other things like surfing the internet, checking email, doing work, or even having a deep heart-to-heart with their passengers if they’re so inclined.