Smart road to safety
New Mercedes technology is reducing crash risks, writes Craig Duff
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.