BMW and Mercedes-Benz are among automakers set to benefit from a regulatory change that paves the way for the introduction of “eyes-off” technology in production cars as early as next year.
A United Nations standard-setting body has agreed to adopt the first set of regulations for a Level 3 driving function called Automated Lane Keeping System (ALKS).
The system enables a car to steer itself at speeds of up to 60 kph (37 mph) within a lane without any human supervision. It allows drivers frustrated by congestion on highways the chance to take their eyes off the road and let the car handle navigating tedious stop-and-go traffic.
Current Level 2 "hands-off" assistance systems such as Tesla’s Autopilot can steer on their own at much higher speeds but a driver must be ready to intervene at any moment when alerted by warnings to place his or her hands back on the wheel.
The new regulatory framework means BMW can offer “eyes-off” automated driving in its iNEXT flagship electric SUV that arrives next year.
BMW welcomed the change and confirmed that the iNEXT will launch with Level 3 features.
"It's a first step toward providing a legal framework for automated driving," a BMW spokesman told Automotive News Europe.
BMW has previously said the iNEXT was developed for eyes-off driving at speeds of at least 130 kph (81 mph) on multi-lane highways where national regulations and laws allowed the function.
Mercedes-Benz said the framework will now enable “a regular type approval process with greater legal certainty.”
Mercedes has targeted eyes-off autonomy for its new-generation S-Class upper-premium sedan, which launches later this year.
Audi said that the regulatory change has come too late for it to reverse the decision not to equip a face-lift of its A8 upper-premium sedan with Level 3 technology. Audi developed the world’s first eyes-off system in its latest-generation A8 in 2017, but the technology was never activated because of regulatory hurdles.
The regulatory change will also benefit suppliers that are developing self-driving technology.
Robert Bosch said autonomous driving is a strategic business area for the company so regulatory development "is highly relevant" both for passenger cars and commercial vehicles.
"We have all the necessary hardware and software in-house to offer a Level 3 system if the customer asks," a Bosch spokesman said.