Electric drive systems and automated driving are key technologies for the mobility of the future claims Mercedes-Benz and every other automaker. In preparation, the German luxury car and truck maker is showing much more flexible seating positions in the interior of such vehicles, but they need a different types of occupant protection.
Even farther out this untested road by real customers in this brave new world is trust. The acceptance of self-driving vehicles will require initially holding an untested belief that they will be safer than conventional vehicles. Moreover, other road users must be able to recognize what an automated vehicle intends to do, because there will be no driver to communicate this.
Ford Motor for example wants all self-driving vehicle developers, automakers and technology companies who are committed to deploying SAE level-4 vehicles that are one step short of full automation to share ideas to create an industry standard for communicating driving intent, whether it be driving, yielding or accelerating from a stop. Having a universal communication interface people across geographies and age groups can understand is critical for the successful deployment of self-driving technology in Ford’s view.
That pedestrians, cyclists and scooter users should change their behavior to accommodate self-driving cars is not how this technology should be integrated. But how to make self-driving vehicles blend with other road users? Automated and driverless vehicles also come up against physical limits, and there will undoubtedly be mixed traffic consisting of automated and non-automated vehicles for many years.
Enter the Experimental Safety Vehicle ESF 2019 from Mercedes. Among the one dozen or so claimed innovations, some are near developments and some look well into the future. ESF 2019 is based on the new Mercedes-Benz GLE that is capable of automated driving in many situations and has a plug-in hybrid drive system.
In June 2019 the ESF 2019 will make its grand appearance before “experts” at the ESV convention in Eindhoven (Netherlands). It will then make its public appearance at the International Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt in September 2019. In some ways the ESF 2019 is a preview of what is to come, in others a vision and in yet others an input to the general discussion.
“We have repeatedly demonstrated that we are not short of ideas in this field since the 1970s, with our Experimental Safety Vehicles,” says Ola Källenius, Member of the Daimler AG Executive Board responsible for Mercedes-Benz Cars Development. “And I can already say this much: some of the functions are very close to series production.”
Highlights of ESF 2019
All-round driver safety: When the ESF 2019 is driving in automated mode, the steering wheel and pedal cluster are retracted to reduce the risk of injury during a crash. The greater interior flexibility requires new ideas for restraint systems (seat-integrated belt) and airbags with alternative installation spaces (driver airbag in the dashboard, integral sidebag in the side bolsters of the seat backrests). However, the ESF 2019 also has ideas for a manual driving mode: With daylight-like light from the sun visor, vitalizing interior light can help to keep the driver alert.
Cooperative communication: For people to gain trust in the automated vehicle, they must immediately and intuitively be able to recognize what it intends to do. In this respect the ESF 2019 takes human road users into consideration. Its sensors not only keep an eye on the traffic, it communicates in all directions and can also warn other road users. The ESF 2019 is also equipped with the revolutionary headlamp technology DIGITAL LIGHT, with it’s claimed, “practically dazzle-free high beam in HD quality and a resolution of more than two million pixels.”
Child safety: With a child seat concept, the seat belt is preventively tensioned and side-mounted impact protection elements are extended before a crash. Thanks to the tensioned belt, the child is more firmly and accurately fixed in the seat while belt slack is reduced. This considerably reduces the loads acting on the child. Monitoring of seat installation and the child’s vital signs are other functions integrated into the seat.
Securing traffic hazards: There is a small robot that automatically emerges from the vehicle’s rear following an incident, and positions itself at the roadside as a warning triangle. Other ideas are a warning triangle that folds out of the vehicle roof at the same time, and the rear window as a communication surface.
New PRE-SAFE functions: PRE-SAFE Curve uses the belt tensioner to warn the driver that he/she has possibly underestimated an approaching bend,) and PRE-SAFE side lights with electro-luminescent paint can defuse potentially hazardous situations. PRE-SAFE Impulse Rear can extend the protection of passengers and others involved in an accident at the end of a traffic tailback.
Rear safety: A rear airbag has a special tubular structure to deploy and position it. With belt-feeders, belt buckle illumination, USB belt buckles and belt heating, the ESF 2019 has a number of ideas by which passengers on the rear seats might be motivated to wear seat.
Active safety: Active Brake Assist with extended provides additional protection, especially in potentially dangerous traffic situations with unprotected road users. When turning, it now also detects pedestrians and cyclists moving in parallel to the original direction of travel. If a collision with unprotected road users crossing the road into which the vehicle is turning is imminent, the driver receives a visual and audible warning. Autonomous braking is initiated if the driver fails to react. The same happens if there are any cyclists in the blind spot when turning to the right.
If there is a risk of collision with cross-traffic when turning off or crossing a road, the system now prevents the driver from moving off and, if necessary, stops the vehicle, including from walking speed, by means of autonomous braking. The 360° pedestrian protection system warns and assists while parking and maneuvering if there is a risk of collision with more vulnerable road users (pedestrians, cyclists), right up to autonomous braking.