Mercedes-Benz’s new flagship S-Class limousine launched today is set to be one of the first cars that allows owners to take their hands off the wheel and be driven autonomously on UK roads.
The new luxury business-class cruiser with its hi-tech interior is priced from £78,000 to £108,000 and fitted with a level of self-driving technology, which will make it capable of driving itself ‘where legal’ – perhaps as early as next year on UK roads.
It comes as ministers in Britain have announced plans to allow ‘automated vehicles’ fitted with the tech, under strict conditions, to begin driving themselves hands-free on UK motorways from spring 2021.
Launched in time for the new September 70 numberplate. the German car-giant described its system as ‘another major step on the way to autonomous driving’ with first UK deliveries from December.
British F1 champion Lewis Hamilton helped launch the hi-tech car – calling the S-class automatically to himself via his smart phone and highlighting its autonomous features.
Hands-free cruiser: This is Mercedes-Benz’s all-new flagship S-Class model, which could be one of the first new cars with ‘Level 3’ automated driving systems allowed to be used on UK motorways from spring 2021
Mercedes-Benz says its new S-Class fitted with a hi-tech ‘Drive Pilot’ system ‘leads the field’ and marks a ‘paradigm change’ in what it dubs ‘conditionally automated driving’ – or Level 3 in the motor-industry’s 5-point scale towards full autonomous driving.
The Government is currently consulting with the motor industry and road safety experts about allowing Level 3 hands-free motoring using a car’s built-in ‘Automated Lane Keeping System’ – or ALKS – on UK roads from next spring.
The German manufacturer’s automated system is part of its ‘vision of accident-free driving’, Mercedes says.
Setting the scene for the near future – in which drivers take their hands off the wheel, read their newspaper or tablet, browse the internet, check e-mails, hold a conference call in a mobile office on wheels, or just relax back and listen to music while enjoying a seat-massage – it notes: ‘For the first time, the vehicle takes control while the Drive Pilot system is active in the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. This is a paradigm change.’
Controlled by a powerful central on-board computer, and activated by the driver via controls on the steering wheel, the system uses a combination of cameras, radar and ‘Lidar’ (light detection and ranging optical sensors which measure distance and speed) along with precise Wi-Fi positioning and a high-definition digital map to ‘drive itself’.
It monitors the road, traffic conditions and traffic signs and keeps the car in lane and at a safe distance from other cars. Image processing uses technologies from the world of artificial intelligence.
Mercedes Benz says: ‘The home office will soon be mobile – including for people behind the wheel. Mercedes-Benz is determined to enable, in technical terms, the safe operation of an S-Class driving in conditionally automated mode and to meet the exacting legal requirements for what is known as a Level 3 system.’
Using its Drive Pilot system where traffic density is high or in tailbacks, on suitable motorway section, it says: ‘It is expected that from the second half of 2021 the S-Class will be able to drive in conditionally automated mode.’
Mercedes adds: ‘By taking pressure off the driver, this allows them to undertake secondary activities such as browsing on the internet or dealing with emails in the In-Car Office, and so win extra time.’
Launched in time for the new September 70 number plate. the German car-giant described its system as ‘another major step on the way to autonomous driving’ with first UK deliveries from December
Mercedes’ Level 3 Drive Pilot system can be activated by the driver via controls on the steering wheel. The system uses a combination of cameras, radar and ‘Lidar’ (light detection and ranging optical sensors which measure distance and speed) along with precise Wi-Fi positioning and a high-definition digital map to ‘drive itself’
Mercedes-Benz says it ‘goes another step further when it comes to parking’ and that with appropriate pre-installation for its intelligent parking pilot system the S-Class is ready for driverless highly automated parking, or ‘Automated Valet Parking’, which equates to Level 4 on the 5-level autonomous driving scale.
Mercedes-Benz S-Class: How its hands-free driving tech works
1. Driver activates ‘Drive Pilot’ system using controls on steering wheel rim (on either side above the thumb recesses).
2. Powerful central on-board computer controls car’s speed and distance and coordinates input from cameras (including in rear windscreen) , radar, sensors, sat-nav and digital mapping to keep self-driving car safely on track.
3. Precise wi-fi positioning and constantly updating high-definition (HD) digital map help car monitor its positon to ‘drive itself’. Receives information about the road lay-out, route, traffic signs and accidents or roadworks.
4. Cameras, radar and Lidar sensors (light detection and ranging optical sensors ) measure relative distance and speed of car, other traffic, signs and road conditions to keep car in lane and a safe distance from other vehicles.
Lidar also spots flashing emergency vehicle lights.:: Image processing uses technologies from the world of artificial intelligence.
5. System recognises unexpected traffic situations – accidents and jams – and deals with them autonomously by evasive action or braking.
A built-in microphone also picks up of emergency vehicle sirens.
6. All algorithms are calculated twice for safety
7. Level 3 autonomy in ‘conditionally automated mode’.
8. Currently ‘self-drive speed’ limited to 37 mph (60 km/h) but that set to rise as proposed new self-drive legislation introduced
9. If driver fails to take back control (or purpose or after collapsing at wheel) car gives increasingly urgent visual and sound prompting.
If warnings ignored, ‘Drive Pilot’ system automatically applies the brakes to bring vehicle to controlled standstill.
It also activates car’s hazard warning lights and emergency call system, unlocking doors and windows for emergency services.
10. Drivers prompted to take back control when vehicle approaches end of a designated self-driving route – or encounters changing conditions such as a tunnel, bad weather or changing traffic.
Driver can deactivate ‘Drive Pilot’ self-drive system any time without prompting.
The company notes: ‘This plan sees Mercedes-Benz taking the crucial step towards conditionally and highly automated driving (Level 3 and Level 4), thereby for the first time offering its customers the possibility in a series production vehicle of handing over the task of driving to the vehicle.’
‘While using the Drive Pilot the driver can turn away from what is happening on the road and turn to certain secondary activities, be that communicating with colleagues via In-Car Office, browsing on the internet, or enjoying a relaxing seat massage.
‘This is because in Drive Pilot mode, functions can be enabled that are otherwise blocked when driving.’
However, Mercedes adds that drivers need to be prepared to retake control of the car within ten seconds of being prompted by the system or if it is ‘obvious that the conditions for correct use of the Drive Pilot no longer apply’.
Sleeping, looking to the rear for extended periods or even leaving the driver’s seat are not permitted – with interior cameras monitoring the driver’s head and eye-lid movements checking up on this.
If the driver fails to take back control – even after increasingly urgent prompting after ignoring or becoming incapacitated because of a severe health issue – the Drive Pilot system automatically applies the brakes and brings the vehicle to a standstill ‘in a controlled manner and with suitable deceleration’.
The system also activates the car’s hazard warning and emergency call system, unlocking the doors and windows to make access to the interior easier for emergency services.
Drivers will also be prompted to take back control when the vehicle approaches the end of a route section deemed unsuitable for self-driving – such as a tunnel or if weather or the traffic conditions change.
Mercedes-Benz notes that the top speed of a system with ‘conditional automation’ is currently restricted by law in Germany to 37mph (60kph).
But that is set to increase to motorway speeds (up to 70mph) in the UK ‘once the legislative framework provides for this’, at which point the limit can be increased by ‘over the air’ software updates.
It says: ‘The general introduction of the Drive Pilot in other European countries, in the USA and China will follow gradually as the legal situation in each country provides for a surrendering of the driving task.’
The car giant notes: ‘In order to be able to allow the customer for the first time to carry out secondary activities during the journey, it is necessary for the Europe-wide harmonised technical approval requirements to be met.’
However, it also requires national road traffic regulations that allow the driver to use the Level 3 system as intended, including by relinquishing the task of driving.’
Mercedes-Benz notes that the top speed of a system with ‘conditional automation’ is currently restricted by law in Germany to 37mph. But that is set to increase to motorway speeds up to 70mph in the UK ‘once the legislative framework provides for this’, at which point the limit can be increased by ‘over the air’ software updates
Mercedes-Benz said the system will be able to take full control of the car, but adds that users need to be prepared to regain the wheel within ten seconds of being prompted
Drivers will also be warned not to use the automated driving system if it is ‘obvious that the conditions for correct use of the Drive Pilot no longer apply’
Mercedes says its Drive Pilot system will initially be offered in Germany because, by opening up its road traffic legislation to Level 3 systems in 2017, Germany was one of the first countries to provide a legal basis for their use.
‘The approval procedure for Europe, which is also necessary for use of the ‘Drive Pilot’ in Germany, is scheduled to be completed towards the middle of next year.’
Dr. Michael Hafner, Mercedes-Benz’s head of automated driving said: ‘With the new S-Class, Mercedes-Benz is taking another major step on the way to autonomous driving’.
‘With the Drive Pilot system, the luxury saloon will be able to drive in conditionally automated mode at up to 37mph where traffic density is high or in tailbacks on suitable motorway sections.
‘This relieves driver workload and allows secondary activities such as the in-car office. This Level 3 system will be introduced first in Germany.’
Mercedes says its Drive Pilot system will initially be offered in Germany because it has provided road traffic legislation to allow for Level 3 automated systems since 2017
Will it fit in my garage?
Flagship Mercedes-Benz S-Class S500 LWB
Price: £98,000 to £108,000
S-Class range price: starts £78,000
First UK deliveries: December 2020
Width (with mirrors): 2,109mm
Engine: 3.0 litre ‘straight six’ cylinder
Power: 435 horse-power
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
Drive: 4Matic four-wheel drive
0 to 62mph: 4.9 seconds
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
Average MPG: 29.7mpg to 35mpg
CO2 emissions: 191g to 216g/km
Fuel tank: 76 litres
Boot: 550 litres (up 20 litres)
Turning circle: 10.9 metres
Other engines sold in the UK: S 350 d (SWB and LWB); S 400 d 4MATIC (LWB only); S 500 4MATIC (SWB and LWB) Plug-in hybrid from 2021
Mercedes S-Class: What else do you need to know?
The flagship Mercedes-Benz S-Class range is priced from £78,000 for the entry-level standard-wheel-base S350d diesel.
But the Stuttgart-based car firm estimates around 9 out of 10 sales will be for long-wheel base models, starting from £88,000 for the longer version of the S350d.
The S-Class’s range-topping S500 LWB with 4Matic four-wheel drive, priced from £98,000 to £108,00, is powered by a 435 horsepower 3.0-litre straight six-cylinder petrol engine linked to a 9-speed automatic gearbox.
it accelerates from rest to 62mph in 4.9 seconds up to a top speed restricted to 155mph, averaging between 29.7mpg to 35mpg with CO2 emissions of between 191g and 216g/km.
Engines available in the UK will be the S350d (short- and long-wheelbase); S 400 d 4MATIC (LWB only); and S 500 4MATIC (SWB and LWB), with five driving modes: Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and Individual.
A plug-in hybrid version with an electric-only range of around 62-miles linking a 3.0-litre straight six engine with an electric motor and lithium ion battery is to follow from 2021.
A fully elecrric ‘sibling’ version of the S-Class with a battery range of 434 miles will be launched as an ‘EQS’ under the firm’s all-electric EQ arm.
The firm is also set to retain a vast 6.0-litre twin-turbo V12 version as a Maybach to rival bespoke Bentleys and Rolls-Royces.
The new S-Class has also grown. At 5,179mm, the standard S-Class is 54mm longer than its predecessor, while the long-wheelbase is (measuring 5,289mm) is 34mm longer. Both are 22mm wider.
It will turn on a sixpence thanks to a turning circle reduced by nearly 2m (1.9m) to under 11m (10.9m) on the long-wheelbase S-Class thanks to all-wheel steering – with a large 10 degree steering angle at the rear axle – makes the car more manoeuvrable and as ‘agile as a compact car around town.
Luxury is to the fore. The front passenger seat alone is assisted by 19 motors, including four for massage and five for ventilation.
Other technology crammed into the new 2020 S-Class
– Up to 5 screens including new 3D-effect 12.3-inch driver display and 12.8 inch central display.
– Button count reduced by 27 as more functions transferred to touch screen.
– Voice control in 27 languages activated by saying ‘Hey Mercedes’.
– Augmented-reality head-up display projects important information into driver’s eyeline at a virtual distance of up to 10m.
– Drivers and occupants of the new Mercedes-Benz S-class can use finger-print, voice, and facial recognition to ‘unlock’ their personal driving profiles – including seat and steering wheel positions – as well as a unique ‘PIN’ number.
– During severe frontal collisions, a rear airbag deploys from the front seat backrests, extending the protective systems for the two passengers on the outer rear seats.
– ‘Active Parking Assist’ with 360° camera allows the car to slip into tight parking spaces while recognising whether anybody is moving within that space. On departure it keeps a wary eye out for crossing traffic.
– In the event of an impending side-impact, sensors trigger the vehicle’s suspension to raise the body by up to 8cm within tenths of a second to reduce the impact on occupants.
– ‘Interior assist’ interprets driver’s head direction, hand movement and body language to anticipate intention, such as looking over shoulder at rear window to open sunblind.
– Digitised headlights with 1.3million micro-mirrors each alloy projection of warnings onto road ahead.
– ‘Predictive compliance’ with speed limits.
– More room for occupants with elbow room increased by 38mm for the driver and up to 23mm for rear passengers, and rear headroom up 16mm.
– Computing power is up 50 per cent.
– High-end Burmester 4D surround sound system with 31 speakers.
– Seats micro-perforated with a tool with 16,000 needles.
– More than 50 electronic components can be upgraded remotely ‘over the air’.
– More than 120 components weighting 98kg are made of recycled materials with a further 40kg of renewable materials. Regenerated nylon – called ECONYL – is used for floor coverings.
– Air-con includes an ioniser to boost ‘wellness’ for occupants – triggered if occupant says ‘I’m tired.’
– New generation blind spot warning which detects the intention to leave the vehicle by the movements of the occupant and allows even earlier warning of other road users and obstacles.
Currently, the highest level of vehicle autonomy being used on UK roads is Tesla’s Autopilot, which is classified as Level 2
If given the green light, Automated Lane Keep Systems will be the first instance of Level 3 vehicle autonomy in the UK
Hands-free driving could be coming to UK motorways next year
At its launch, Mercedes-Benz said it aimed to introduce the Level 3 automation in the second half of 2021, and to be the first car firm in the world to follow up with Level 4 automation, subject to governments setting the legislation, as the UK government is planning.
Rules proposed by the Department for Transport in August would legalise the use of ‘automated lane keeping’ technology which can take full control of vehicles to keep them in lanes. The DfT is to start a formal consultation at the end of this year.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, of which the UK is a member, gave the go-ahead for this technology for the first time in June – meaning it will probably become widely available from next spring.
At the moment, drivers are required to keep their hands on the steering wheel at all times – even if they are driving cars with the more advanced technology.
The government has launched a call for evidence over the use of the ALKS system on UK roads, which could be introduced for motorway driving next year
But the DfT has now proposed an amendment to traffic laws to allow drivers to relinquish control on motorways at speeds of up to 70mph. They are also planning to change rule 150 of the Highway Code which says drivers should not rely on driver assistance systems.
The proposal suggests vehicles with lane keeping systems could be defined as ‘automated vehicles’, meaning manufacturers would carry responsibility for any accidents and not the driver. If approved, it would represent a big step towards the introduction of fully driver less cars on the roads.
Automated Lane Keeping systems are backed by the AA and the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, which claim that they could prevent tens of thousands of accidents.
What is ALKS and how does it work?
Automated Lane Keeping System (ALKS) technology would be the most advanced car automation so far seen on UK roads.
When activated, the ALKS keeps the vehicle within its lane, controlling its movements for extended periods of time without the driver needing to do anything.
However, the driver must be ready and able to resume driving control within seconds if prompted by the vehicle.
Different manufacturers all have their own systems, but generally it involves a forward-looking camera, usually behind the windshield, laser sensors, infrared sensors and radar sensors to detect if you’re unintentionally drifting out of lane.
When the sensors detect the car is moving out of lane, it can automatically apply braking to one side of the vehicle to correct the vehicles position in the road.
Rather than subtle braking, some systems can use discreet steering interventions.
ALKS is designated a Level 3 system by the UN’s Economic Commission for Europe.
This signifies that the person at the wheel is not driving when the automated systems are engaged, but can step in at any time and must take over at the system’s request.
With a Level 3 system activated, the user is allowed to do other things, such as watch a movie or even send a text message, but must retain some level of alertness to what is happening around them.
There are five stages of autonomy for self-driving cars, with Level 5 being full autonomy.
While it is similar to the technology already being used by Tesla, which it calls Autopilot, the US firm’s system is only deemed Level 2 – where drivers are expected to keep their full attention on traffic.
Lane Keeping Assist – a function that’s been available in new cars for over a decade – is also deemed to fall into Level 1 and 2 because it only alerts the driver that they are veering out of their lane and it is up to the user to steer the vehicle.