Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz Cars has unveiled a new concept/experimental vehicle to show off “safety ideas for a new mobility”.

The ESF 2019, based on the recently launched GLE crossover, is a plug-in hybrid capable of “automated driving in many situations”.

It will be shown at the ESV convention in Eindhoven, Netherlands, in June and make its public appearance at the Frankfurt show in September.

“In some respects the ESF 2019 is a preview of what is to come, in others a vision and in yet others a contribution to the general discussion, but it is also a tool for improved traffic safety,” Daimler said.

The automaker said electric drive systems and automated driving are key technologies for future mobility which has led to changes in the requirements for in-car safety technology. Much more flexible seating positions require a different form of occupant protection while empathy and trust are central factors for the acceptance of self-driving vehicles.

Other road users must be able to recognise intuitively what an automated vehicle intends to do, as in many situations there will be no driver to communicate this.

ESF 2019 gives an idea of what the company is researching and, among a dozen innovations, some are near-series production developments while some look well into the future.

“Some of the functions are very close to series production,” hinted Mercedes’ R&D chief Ola Kaellenius.

According to Rodolfo Schoeneburg, vehicle safety, durability and corrosion protection centre chief at Mercedes-Benz Cars: “The great advantage of automating driving functions is that in the future, fewer accidents will be caused by driver error. However, 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.”

ESF 2019 features include:

  • All-round driver safety: 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). In manual driving mode, using daylight-like light from the sun visor, vitalising interior light can help to keep the driver alert.
  • Cooperative communication with the environment: If people are to trust an automated vehicle, they must immediately and intuitively be able to recognise what it intends to do. Sensors monitor traffic, communicate in all directions and warn other road users. A claimed “revolutionary” headlamp technology, Digital Light, offers practically dazzle-free HD high beam with resolution of 2m pixels.
  • Child safety: With the child seat concept Pre-Safe Child, 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: The concept shows how the scenes of accidents or breakdowns could be secured more safely with innovations such as 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: Curve (which uses the belt tensioner to warn the driver that he/she has possibly underestimated an approaching bend) and side lights with electro-luminescent paint can defuse potentially hazardous situations. Impulse Rear is able to extend the protection of passengers and others involved in an accident at the end of a traffic tailback.
  • Safety and comfort in the rear: A new inflation method deploys and positions the airbag which has a special tubular structure. Belt-feeders, belt buckle illumination, USB belt buckles and belt heating are all intended to motivate rear sear passengers to buckle up.
  • Active safety: Active Brake Assist with extended functions provides additional protection 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 also applies 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 manoeuvring if there is a risk of collision with more vulnerable road users (pedestrians, cyclists), right up to autonomous braking. 

Learning from real accidents

Mercedes-Benz said (as does Volvo Cars) it takes its lead from real accidents for the protection of all road users. On the basis of what actually happens in accidents, it develops strict in-house safety regulations that in many cases go well beyond the legal provisions or rating requirements. For 50 years, in-house engineers have examined serious accidents involving the automaker’s current vehicles. The aim is to learn  and incorporate findings into the design of new models.

Ideas and safety concepts such as those shown in the ESF 2019 are tested and validated at Daimler’s Technology Centre for Vehicle Safety (TFS). Opened in November 2016, the TFS is part of the development centre in Sindelfingen.

Numerous innovations from the ESF 2009 presented at the ESV convention a decade ago have since entered production. These include the S-Class beltbag, Pre-Safe Impulse Side for the E-Class, CLS and GLE, plus Active High Beam Assist Plus which is available across the Mercedes-Benz range.