Place Your Bets: Mercedes Suggests Level 4 Automated Driving By 2030

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

place your bets mercedes suggests level 4 automated driving by 2030

Remember a few years ago when just about every automaker was promising that self-driving would become publicly available by 2020? Well, they’re hoping you didn’t because a few of them are starting to issue new claims that vehicular autonomy is once again less than a decade away.

While “hands-free” driving systems that require you to remain constantly vigilant (in case you need to take over) have become the new hotness, Mercedes-Benz said it’s planning on selling a version that will qualify as truly self-driving by 2030. But there are caveats to that claim pertaining to specific traffic conditions – meaning it’s still not actually going to be SAE Level 5.

Considering just how far the industry has fallen short of its preexisting self-driving targets, this probably shouldn’t be all that surprising. Plenty of automakers have walked back (or completely ignored) their previous targets while others are starting to get in trouble for marketing Level 2 systems as fully self-driving. But that hasn’t resulted in every manufacturer abandoning their development programs.

According to Automotive News, Mercedes held a press event in Sunnyvale, California, last week where leadership announced plans to launch a rather sophisticated-sounding version of Level 4 technology that would effectively let the driver tune out completely while the vehicle pilots itself. However, the system wouldn’t work in all traffic environments.

From Automotive News:

Mercedes' Level 3 Drive Pilot system, self-certified for use only in Nevada for now, uses radar, lidar and other sensors to enable a vehicle to control driving functions on highways at speeds of up to 40 mph, freeing the driver to do other things, such as answer emails. Level 3 on the SAE International scale requires a human to take control of the vehicle when the automated driving system requests.
Mercedes Chief Technology Officer Markus Schäfer said achieving the more advanced Level 4 driving is "doable" by the end of the decade.
"Private-owned Level 4 cars, absolutely. This is something that I see in the future," Schäfer said at a media event here last week.

Schäfer explained that he believes there’s a strong need for hands-free, eyes-free driving in congested urban environments – especially in China, where the brand moves a lot of product and prolonged traffic jams are relatively common.

"Just imagine you are in a big city, and you come from work, and you are sitting for two hours in traffic, and you press the button and go to sleep," he said. "There will be a demand for that."

There’s always been demand for that and we’ve gone through several generations of people fantasizing about vehicles capable of offering such an experience. But the technology has been a long time coming, with American automakers offering their first self-driving concepts in 1939 – though the premise of radio-controlled cars actually dates back to the 1920s. The only real difference between then and now is that the relevant technologies have finally reached a point where the automotive sector can actually implement some of them.

Whether or not you’re impressed with the results, things like automatic emergency braking and lane keeping are becoming commonplace. We’re even seeing companies furnish limited-use systems where you don’t technically have to touch the vehicle’s controls to keep it moving through traffic. But these systems are highly contingent on road conditions and still require the driver to remain ever vigilant in case the technology falters and tries to steer you off a bridge.

Mercedes’ Level 4 system would change all that by making it so the driver could let their guard down. But, unlike SAE Level 5, the system will still be limited by geographical boundaries, weather restrictions, and internet connectivity. This is also true of SAE Level 3, with the manufacturer trying to push the technology as far as it can in anticipation of a major breakthrough.

Last year, Mercedes and supplier Robert Bosch were granted approval to test a fully automated valet parking system for use in a Stuttgart Airport garage, allowing cars to drive to pilot themselves into reserved parking spots. But the software is dependent on having unimpeded communication with sensors in the parking area to help them avoid obstacles.

Originally, companies were interested in building autonomous vehicles that could operate independently of the broader network. However, suppliers realized that it was probably easier to leverage connectivity to increase the amount of useful data self-driving cars could take advantage of – with the added benefit of the scheme creating more individual products and prospective clients. This is especially advantageous if you happen to be the company that just developed the latest hardware or software that everyone else wants to buy.

"We want to create a technology package [containing] everything a car needs to become a self-driving vehicle: sensors, cloud-based data processing and other components," said Michael Hafner, a Mercedes software executive who previously was head of Drive Technologies and Automated Driving at the automaker. "We will offer this package to other OEMs as well."

Mercedes is hardly alone in its desires, however. Most major automakers currently offer some form of hands-free driving on top-tier models and several brands are starting to introduce Level 3 systems designed to offer periods where you don't even need driver supervision until prompted by the vehicle. Unfortunately, what actually qualifies as SAE Levels 3 and 4 has gotten muddled while divergent regional regulations prohibited what automakers can actually implement between certain markets. For example, the BMW 7 Series is supposed to get a Level 3 self-driving system later this year. But it has no plans on fielding it in the United States until it feels more comfortable with the technology and assumed updates to U.S. vehicle requirements. 

Regardless of when a company manages to deliver next-generation tech, they’re all operating under the assumption that vehicle connectivity will work in tandem with self-driving systems to create recurring revenue streams. By creating conditions where drivers don’t actually have to drive, they can sell all manner of distractions and advertise via tablet-like infotainment centers. They’ll also be able to sell the data accrued through interactions while simultaneously offering the latest advanced driving features through over-the-air updates.

Mercedes-Benz sales head Britta Seeger said she believes automated and advanced driving systems would become the "largest software-enabled revenue driver by 2030."

The automaker estimates said revenue would grow from "low single-digit" billion euros mid-decade to "mid-single-digit" billion euros by the end of the decade.

However, we’ve been down this road before. Automakers had vowed that electric vehicles would reach full parity (sales, pricing, range, performance, etc.) with combustion vehicles by 2025 and previously suggested that autonomous driving would be made publicly available by 2020. Neither of those assumptions turned out to be correct. Despite impressive sales and technological growth, EVs remain a niche segment of the U.S. market. Assertions made about autonomous vehicles have fallen even shorter of reality, which should probably encourage everyone to maintain a healthy level of skepticism when any automaker says self-driving vehicles are forthcoming.

[Image: emirhankaramuk/]

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2 of 10 comments
  • Inside Looking Out Inside Looking Out on Mar 01, 2023

    We were promised human moon bases by year 2001.

    • Art  Vandelay Art Vandelay on Mar 01, 2023

      I thought we were supposed to go to Jupiter that year. Instead I went to Afghanistan lol

  • MrIcky MrIcky on Mar 02, 2023

    "Just imagine you are in a big city, and you come from work, and you are sitting for two hours in traffic, and you press the button and create an ONLYFANS video," Fixed for the US market.

  • Probert Wow - so many digital renders - Ford, Stellantis. - whose next!!! They're really bringing it on....
  • Zerocred So many great drives:Dalton Hwy from Fairbanks to the Arctic Circle.Alaska Marine Highway from Bellingham WA to Skagway AK. it was a multi-day ferry ride so I didn’t actually drive it, but I did take my truck.Icefields Parkway from Jasper AB to Lake Louise AB, CA.I-70 and Hwy 50 from Denver to Sacramento.Hwy 395 on the east side of the Sierras.
  • Aidian Holder I'm not interested in buying anything from a company that deliberately targets all their production in crappy union-busting states. Ford decided to build their EV manufaturing in Tennessee. The company built it there because of an anti-union legal environment. I won't buy another Ford because of that. I've owned four Fords to date -- three of them pickups. I'm shopping for a new one. It won't be a Ford Lightning. If you care about your fellow workers, you won't buy one either.
  • Denis Jeep have other cars?!?
  • Darren Mertz In 2000, after reading the glowing reviews from c/d in 1998, I decided that was the car for me (yep, it took me 2 years to make up my mind). I found a 1999 with 24k on the clock at a local Volvo dealership. I think the salesman was more impressed with it than I was. It was everything I had hoped for. Comfortable, stylish, roomy, refined, efficient, flexible, ... I can't think of more superlatives right now but there are likely more. I had that car until just last year at this time. A red light runner t-boned me and my partner who was in the passenger seat. The cops estimate the other driver hit us at about 50 mph - on a city street. My partner wasn't visibly injured (when the seat air bag went off it shoved him out of the way of the intruding car) but his hip was rather tweaked. My car, though, was gone. I cried like a baby when they towed it away. I ruminated for months trying to decide how to replace it. Luckily, we had my 1998 SAAB 9000 as a spare car to use. I decided early on that there would be no new car considered. I loathe touch screens. I'm also not a fan of climate control. Months went by. I decided to keep looking for another B5 Passat. As the author wrote, the B5.5 just looked 'over done'. October this past year I found my Cinderella slipper - an early 2001. Same silver color. Same black leather interior. Same 1.8T engine. Same 5 speed manual transmission. I was happier than a pig in sh!t. But a little sad also. I had replaced my baby. But life goes on. I drive it every day to work which takes me over some rather twisty freeway ramps. I love the light snarel as I charge up some steep hills on my way home. So, I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Passat guy.