Next Mercedes-Benz S-Class will get Level 3 self-driving

It's due in 2020 and will be an option

Mercedes-Benz says its next S-Class sedan will feature the brand's first Level 3 autonomous system, a conditional self-driving system in which the car can handle most of its own driving.

Ola Kaellenius, Daimler's head of research, said at the Paris auto show last week that the technology will debut in the brand's flagship model and then spread to lower segment vehicles, Automotive News reports. The next S-Class is due in 2020, and Kaellenius, who is on track to succeed Dieter Zetsche as CEO in May, said it will be offered as an option.

That would keep it ahead of the reported 2021 debut of BMW's iNext, an electric crossover that will also have Level 3 self-driving capability, which is a subtle jump from existing Level 2 capabilities found in systems like Tesla's Autopilot and the Super Cruise GM uses in the Cadillac CT6. Those require drivers to keep their eyes on the road, ready to reassume control of the wheel at all times.

Under Level 3, the driver can take his or her hands off the wheel and eyes off the road, but will be alerted to retake control if the vehicle can't handle the functions under certain conditions. Both Mercedes and BMW are behind the 2019 Audi A8, which features six cameras, five radar sensors and a laser scanner to enable Level 3 autonomous driving, though Audi is not ready to sell the Level 3-equipped version in the United States due to several factors including lagging regulatory approvals. Automotive News reports that Germany is the only country so far that has legalized the ability to transfer operation of the vehicle to an onboard computer.

Meanwhile, General Motors has said it plans to begin production of its fully autonomous Cruise AV next year at a plant near Detroit.

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