Mercedes-Benz cars in the U.S. are about to add a little extra semi-autonomy, with drivers in some states potentially able to hand over highway congestion to their car to deal with. Announced at CES 2023 today, Automatic Lane Change (ALC) and Mercedes' DRIVE PILOT will build on the automaker's existing adaptive cruise control.
Though still not "autonomous driving" according to the generally accepted Level 4/5 standards — which expect fully unsupervised operations across a wide range of road types and conditions — the new features should make a difference to life on the highway. They'll also help Mercedes' bring its driver-assistance offerings in line with what some rivals are doing.
Already, Mercedes vehicles with Active Distance Assist DISTRONIC and Active Steering Assist can manually trigger an automated lane-change maneuver. By tapping the indicator stalk in the required direction, the car will automatically shift lanes assuming the coast is clear. ALC, however, sees the car take on that decision.
Slower cars can be automatically overtaken
If the car approaches another vehicle on the highway that's moving slower than the speed the adaptive cruise control has been set to, automatic lane change can now overtake that vehicle by itself. The driver no longer needs to weigh in and decide whether or not to do so; the car will make the decision so as to keep as close as possible to the preset speed.
After the maneuver, and the slower car has been overtaken, the Mercedes "can assist moving back to the original lane," the automaker says. In addition, if there's active route guidance from the navigation in operation, ALC will also initiate lane maneuvers to help follow that guidance when approaching exit ramps and freeway junctions.
Mercedes isn't the first to this sort of technology. Tesla and GM already offer automatic maneuvering on select models, in fact. However, the German automaker's other big CES 2023 announcement is something it doesn't have U.S. competition for.
DRIVE PILOT lets drivers watch a movie on the highway
Mercedes-Benz DRIVE PILOT launched in Germany in May 2022, a Level 3 "conditionally automated" driver-assistance system. Offered on select Mercedes models — including the latest S-Class and its electric cousin, the EQS — the system is designed to operate in a fairly constrained scenario. On pre-mapped highways, where traffic density is high — and at speeds up to 60 kilometers per hour, or around 37 miles per hour — DRIVE PILOT can operate the car itself.
As we found when we tried the system out, the big difference to other driver-assistance tech is that, when DRIVE PILOT is active, the human driver doesn't have to supervise. Instead, they can use their phone, play a game, or even watch a movie. When traffic conditions clear, responsibility is handed back over to the human driver.
Now, Mercedes says, it has applied for certification in California and Nevada. "DMV Nevada has approved our application and they are now preparing the certificate of compliance that will be issued within the next two weeks," Mercedes said today. "With that, Mercedes-Benz will be the first OEM to have a Level 3 system to offer in the US — and is optimistic that California will follow soon."