Mercedes’ vision for an accident-free future has been previewed by a new concept car fitted with a raft of prototype safety systems.
Perhaps the most eye-catching feature of the GLE-based Mercedes ESF (Experimental Sicherheits Fahrzeug , or experimental safety vehicle) is its hazard-warning robot. This emerges from underneath the rear of the car in the event of an accident, deploys a warning triangle from its top, then drives itself 200 metres down the road to warn approaching traffic of the danger ahead.
A laser projector in the boot, meanwhile, can project messages and symbols on to the otherwise clear rear window, telling following vehicles if, for example, the ESF’s driver has stopped to allow a pedestrian to cross the road. The projector can even display images from the front-facing camera onto the back window, giving other road users even more information about what lies ahead.
LED strips flash to warn vehicles that are approaching too quickly from a side junction at night, while an LED screen and an automated voice can communicate with pedestrians the car thinks are about to walk out into traffic.
Inside, the ESF’s rectangular steering wheel offers a better view of the instruments and retracts when the driver’s airbag deploys, allowing the ‘bag to emerge over the top of the wheel, rather than straight out of it. This design, Mercedes says, offers better protection for drivers of different heights.
Front seat occupants also benefit from “wing” side airbags that surround them in an accident, while passengers in the rear get airbags that deploy from the backs of the front seats. Also in the cabin is an interior light that simulates daylight, helping the driver stay alert, and seatbelts that are heated to encourage their use.
Mercedes has also developed a prototype connected carbon-fibre child seat, which rotates to make it easier to strap the child in, monitors the child via a heartrate monitor, and features a facial recognition camera to let parents know if the child is asleep, without them having to turn around in the car. The seat is also fitted with a child version of Mercedes’ established Pre-Safe system, which automatically tightens the seatbelt in the event of an accident, to mitigate against possible injuries.
While Mercedes has a history of fitting cutting-edge safety systems to its production cars, and the S-Class limo in particular, the ESF features such forward-thinking tech that it remains – for now at least – very much a concept car.
Designed to coexist on the road with driverless as well as conventional cars, the ESF concept can either drive itself, or be driven by a human, with the accelerator and brake pedals retracting when the car enters self-driving mode.
“We see safety as a core [value], not only to our customers, but also to society”, says Markus Schäfer from Mercedes’ divisional board. “What drives our engineers in all this is the overarching vision of zero-accident driving.”
But while Mercedes is committed to the EU’s vision to have zero road traffic fatalities by 2050, the company acknowledges that as long as there are human drivers on the road, accidents will still occur.
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