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Mercedes sells California’s first autonomous cars

Mercedes-Benz received a permit from California regulators to sell or lease vehicles with a conditional automated driving system for hands-free driving on certain highways.

Mercedes-Benz received a deployment permit for its Drive Pilot system from the California DMV on Thursday. The hands-off, eyes-off system can be used on certain California highways, including Interstate 15, without a driver. Drivers can watch videos, text, talk to passengers, or play with any number of third-party apps coming to new Mercedes models without looking ahead or touching the wheel.

The DMV, which regulates autonomous vehicles in California, says Mercedes-Benz is the fourth company to receive a deployment permit and the first to sell or lease vehicles with an automated driving system. Drive Pilot can be used on Bay Area, Central Valley, Los Angeles, Sacramento, and San Diego highways with the deployment permit.

Drive Pilot is different from Waymo, Cruise, Motional, and Zoox’s fully autonomous systems, but they share some principles. In certain conditions, the Drive Pilot system uses lidar, radar, and camera sensors with software to drive. Mercedes’ system only works at 40 mph on certain highways during daylight hours. According to the DMV, the system will not engage on city or county roads, in construction zones, during heavy rain or fog, on flooded roads, or in weather conditions that affect system performance.

Waymo and other systems are designed to operate at higher speeds, day and night, on public roads, and the human passenger is never expected to take over.

Mercedes owners must watch a mandatory video explaining the system’s capabilities and how to engage and disengage it before using it, per DMV requirements. Mercedes must meet safety, insurance, and registration requirements.

Mercedes requests approval from every U.S. state’s regulatory body for its Drive Pilot system, even when it is not prohibited. Drive Pilot debuted in Germany. Nevada authorized it this year.

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