Mercedes-Benz has just launched a new autonomous valet parking service that marks a big step for self-driving cars. The automaker says that it's the first approval of a Level 4 driverless parking function in the world.

Level 4 means no driver is needed. The car can take care of itself – as long as it is inside a limited geographic area – with nobody behind the wheel. Under the SAE automation levels standard, this is the last step before a car that doesn't need a steering wheel at all.

In this case, the limited area is the inside of the Mercedes-Benz Museum parking garage in Stuttgart.

The system lets the driver enter the garage, get out, and let the car park itself through the touch of an app button. Then the car returns to the drop-off point itself when called – the car drives itself through the parking garage.

It will be in use every day at the museum, and Mercedes-Benz will have vehicles to demonstrate it. But it's not the self-parking system that's the impressive part here. After all, they aren't yet selling e vehicle that can support it.

It's the government approval that's the news here. Bosch and Daimler have been working on the project since 2015. It was first presented in 2017 and was available for demonstrations with a safety driver from 2018. This approval to run it without a safety driver is a big part of that development process. It gives other governments a precedent to approve the self-driving systems in other areas.

“This approval from the Baden-Württemberg authorities sets a precedent for obtaining approval in the future for the parking service in parking garages around the world,” says Dr. Michael Hafner, the head of drive technologies and automated driving at Daimler AG. “As a pioneer in automated driving, our project paves the way for automated valet parking to go into mass production in the future.”

No word on when the system might expand to other garages.