There’s One Self-Driving Electric Car You Can Now Buy In California — The Mercedes-Benz EQS

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Yes, yes, the Tesla “Full Self Driving” suite will one day be robotaxi-capable (so says Elon Musk year after year after year). And, yes, it can drive you from your home to Target right now (sort of). But I’ve got Tesla there’s a difference between having a legitimately and legally hands-free self-driving car.

Now, there’s a difference between self-driving in certain situations or places and full self-driving anywhere and everywhere. Even the famous (and sometimes infamous) Cruise and Waymo robotaxis can’t drive around everywhere — in fact, they’re in just a few cities.

So, the news: whereas you have to keep your eyes open and your hands on the wheel in a Tesla with FSD active, up to date, and in use, in a 2024 Mercedes-Benz EQS, you can now close your eyes and take your hands off the wheel on certain highways in California (and also in Nevada, but that permission was granted previously, in January). Mercedes-Benz is the first automaker to be granted a permit for such driving in The Golden State. Specifically, the company’s “Drive Pilot” system was granted the permission by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

Yes, that also means that the driver can watch movies, play video games, text, or watch tennis while the Mercedes-Benz EQS drives itself. And, yes, that means the responsibility for driving safely is on Mercedes-Benz’s shoulder’s, not the vehicle owner’s/driver’s.

I should note that a non-electric Mercedes-Benz model also includes the Drive Pilot suite that was granted permission from the California DMV to fully take over the role of driver. That would be the 2024 Mercedes-Benz S-Class, but we won’t mention it again.

Naturally, while Elon Musk and many Tesla fans may be adamant that the Mercedes-Benz software isn’t nearly as “advanced” as Tesla’s, the fact is that these vars use a lot of different sensors and advanced software to make sure the company is comfortable taking on all liability for the car’s driving on the permitted roads. That includes using normal visual cameras, LiDAR, radar/ultrasound sensors, and mics to pick up sounds around or approaching the car. And, of course, software to stitch it all together and predict what the car should do. “It can even compare onboard sensor and GPS data to fix its precise location on roads,” engadget writes.

Here are some more specifics from Mercedes-Benz:

  • “On suitable freeway sections and where there is high traffic density, DRIVE PILOT can offer to take over the dynamic driving task, up to speeds of 40 mph. The control buttons required for this are located on the steering wheel rim, on the left and right above the thumb recesses. Once conditions are suitable, the system indicates availability on the control buttons.”
  • “Mercedes-Benz is focusing on SAE Level 3 conditionally automated driving with the ultimate goal of driving at speeds of up to 80 mph (130 km/h) in its final iteration. Additional redundancy in sensing modalities will ensure that the system meets the highest Mercedes-Benz safety standards. To achieve this ultimate goal, the company has partnered with strong players like NVIDIA and Luminar, which are perfect additions to the existing roster of first-class cooperations with leading and cutting–edge tech-companies.”
  • “Mercedes‑Benz has the ambition to further expand availability of this groundbreaking system to additional markets in the future.”

Kudos to Mercedes-Benz. It probably hasn’t gotten nearly enough praise for achieving this milestone. But then again, as strong as the brand historically is, its name doesn’t rhyme with Nesla, so it’s just not the headline maker it once was. Also, it’s obvious that this is not a general AI or broad, general self-driving approach. What Tesla fans are excited and bullish about is the potential that once Tesla cracks the code with FSD, its cars will be able to operate as robotaxis broadly and not be limited to certain highways, cities, or driving situations. Whether Tesla can achieve that or not is the trillion-dollar question. In the meantime, at this stage of the game, Mercedes-Benz’s self-driving milestone and advancement is one to be celebrated.

All photos by Zach Shahan | CleanTechnica


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Zachary Shahan

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.

Zachary Shahan has 7430 posts and counting. See all posts by Zachary Shahan