Smart road to safety

New Mercedes technology is re­duc­ing crash risks, writes Craig Duff

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Motorsport -

REAL-WORLD safety rates higher with Mercedes-Benz than a five-star NCAP rat­ing. That’s why the Ger­man car­maker won’t fol­low ri­val BMW and raise the front edge of its bon­net to get top marks in the pedes­trian bon­net im­pact test.

Mercedes ar­gues that to do so would put pedes­tri­ans at risk in a crash, where the raised front bon­net can act as a cut­ting edge.

It’s hard to ar­gue with the com­pany that in­tro­duced ev­ery­thing from crum­ple zones to to ABS and ESC. That com­mit­ment to re­duc­ing the road roll is now evolv­ing into into avoid­ing col­li­sions in the first place, us­ing a cam­era and radar sen­sors to monitor the area around the car.

With the global ve­hi­cle pop­u­la­tion grow­ing five times faster than the hu­man one — no­tably due to in­creas­ing af­flu­ence in China and In­dia — Mercedes’ head of safety, Dr Ul­rich Mellinghoff, be­lieves the num­ber of crashes will rise with­out im­proved safety sys­tems.

‘‘There will be two bil­lion cars by 2050, cov­er­ing 70 tril­lion kilo­me­tres,’’ he says.

‘‘In more than 80 per cent of traf­fic ac­ci­dents the di­ag­no­sis is hu­man er­ror. The new E and S Class will not only monitor the road ahead, but will act ac­cord­ingly. They will recog­nise speed lim­its and lands and use At­ten­tion As­sist to monitor 70 pa­ram­e­ters in­clud­ing driver be­hav­iour.

‘‘We are talk­ing about cars than can look ahead and be think­ing part­ners with the drive.’’

They have fancy names like Brake As­sist Plus, At­ten­tion As­sist and Night View As­sist, but the in­ten­tion is to warn the driver of dan­ger and in­ter­vene only when the hu­man op­er­a­tor ig­nores the warn­ings

Dr Mellinghoff says the technology won’t be used to help govern­ment agen­cies or in­surance com­pa­nies de­ter­mine ‘‘fault’’ in a col­li­sion. THE Ex­per­i­men­tal Safety Ve­hi­cle 2009 is a rolling testbed of the next gen­er­a­tion of Mercedes technology. There are 27 dif­fer­ent sys­tems aimed at avoid­ing a crash or re­duc­ing the dam­age if it can’t be avoided. Here are a few of the high­lights:

The beams au­to­mat­i­cally ad­just the light dis­tri­bu­tion as cars ap­proach to pre­vent daz­zling on­com­ing driv­ers while the ‘‘free’’ head­light con­tin­ues to il­lu­mi­nate the Mercedes’ lane. The sys­tem also ‘‘spot­lights’’ po­ten­tial haz­ards such as an­i­mals or pedes­tri­ans be­yond the nor­mal range of the head­lights as they are de­tected by the Night View As­sist in­frared cam­era.

This evo­lu­tion of the Pre-Safe brak­ing sys­tem cuts im­pact forces on oc­cu­pants by up to a third if the car is hit from the side. An air cham­ber in the side bol­sters of the seat nudges the oc­cu­pants to­wards to­wards the cen­tre of the ve­hi­cle by up to 50mm.

A hol­low metal beam in the doors is in­flated by a gas generator when the radar sys­tem de­tetr­mines a side hit is im­mi­nent to of­fer more re­sis­tance.

Re­flec­tive strips are inset into the door seals and tyres. They are in­vis­i­ble of a day, but de­fine the ve­hi­cle’s sil­hou­ette at night.

The front pas­sen­ger seat airbag au­to­mat­i­cally ad­justs its vol­ume in re­la­tion to the seat­ing po­si­tion and size of the oc­cu­pant. The sys­tem

‘‘Our obli­ga­tion is to the owner of the car and other driv­ers. Our black boxes only record de­tails of an ac­ci­dent. They are not data log­gers. We won’t have data log­gers un­til gov­ern­ments leg­is­late, and I don’t think the pub­lic is ready to ac­cept that,’’ he says.

The pub­lic is, how­ever, ready to ac­cept the ben­e­fits the technology can bring. Mercedes Aus­tralia spokesman uses three re­tain­ing straps linked to the seat po­si­tion mo­tors to ad­just the airbag’s con­tour.

The seat­belt is lit­er­ally coc­cooned in­side an airbag which in­flates mil­lisec­onds be­fore a crash to dou­ble the sur­face area of the re­straint.

Mercedes de­scribes the un­der-car airbag David McCarthy says the C-Class range out­sold the Mazda6 last month — and while the top-end toys are re­served for the E and S-Class, it’s only time be­fore they flow through the range. The man en­trusted with de­vel­op­ing Mercedes’ ac­tive safety sys­tems, Dr Jorg Breuer, in­sists the technology isn’t in­tended to do away with the driver. as an ‘‘aux­il­iary brake’’ that de­ploys just be­fore a crash to cut the car’s speed by around 3km/h. bfIn­ter­ac­tive Ve­hi­cle Com­mu­ni­ca­tion: The ESF uses ad­hoc net­work­ing to com­mu­ni­cate di­rectly with other ve­hi­cles and can re­ceive and trans­mit warn­ings of bad weather or ob­sta­cles in the road.

‘‘The driver will re­main boss — all this technology is there to sup­port him, not to re­place him,’’ Breuer ex­plains.

‘‘We are in the busi­ness of build­ing safe cars for driv­ers, not au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles.’’

A $700,000 sim­u­la­tor proves the ben­e­fits of the sys­tems. There’s no more graphic demon­stra­tion than be- ing hit with a 1-G de­cel­er­a­tion, then re­peat­ing the ex­er­cise with the seat­belt pre-ten­sioner hold­ing you tight and front seat lip curl­ing up to keep you in place as the sen­sors recog­nise an im­mi­nent hit.

A back­wards slide into a ‘‘solid’’ ob­ject sim­i­larly sees the head rest de­ployed up and for­wards to min­imise whiplash.

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