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Is this the safest car of all time? Mercedes unveils ESF 2019 concept


Mercedes has pulled back the curtain on the future of vehicle safety, unveiling its new ESF 2019 concept in Germany. Based on the brand's GLE SUV, the ESF adds just about every key piece of safety technology currently being studied by the brand.

And while not all of it is likely to make it through to production (in fact, some 40 per cent will likely be dumped in the too-hard basket), the ESF does offer a strong indication of Merc's safety priorities.

A key focus of the ESF was ensuring an autonomous vehicle (the ESF is equipped with Level Four autonomy) can communicate with other road users (be they pedestrians or other drivers), and so the grille at the front of the vehicle has been replaced with a digital screen that can warn pedestrians when it's dangerous to step out in front of the car, and the rear windscreen doubles as a digital projector screen that can warn rear traffic of congestion or an accident ahead.

"Safety continues to be our core brand value," says Rodolfo Schöneburg, Head of the Vehicle Safety at Mercedes-Benz.

"The great advantage of automating driving functions is that in the future, fewer accidents will be caused by driver error. However, fully-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."

Which is why those four towering sensors on the roof help give the car 360-degree vision, and illuminate different colours of the car is being driven by a human, or if its autonomous functions have taken over.

Perhaps the coolest/most ridiculous function, though, is a tiny Roomba-style autonomous robot that is deployed via a tiny rearward ramp, and which carries a warning triangle. It's deployed in an emergency to warn oncoming traffic that you're stopped ahead.

But while almost all of that technology feels some way off, there is plenty of clever stuff on show here that will begin appearing in vehicles as early as next year.

Perhaps the biggest innovation - or at least, the one that will become the new normal, possibly industry-wide - is a Mercedes-patented rear airbag design that deploys from the back of the two front seats.

Unlike a traditional airbag, Mercedes' backseat design uses piping that supports the bag structure, and which rapidly fills with air, while the bag itself fills only with ambient air.

It means the structure is less solid than a traditional airbag, but it can be used with child seats, and regardless of rear seating position, and reduces load on the head by 30 per cent.

Mercedes' hints that the technology will be rolled out in cars "where the rear passenger is the focus", meaning you can bet it will make its debut in the incoming S-Class, which will be unveiled next year.

Another clever technology that will appear in production cars sooner rather than later is the Pre-Safe Curve, which tightens the seatbelts when you approach a corner at pace, essentially strapping you to the seat and minimising lateral movement.

Likewise, Benz's new heated seatbelts (and with integrated USB points in the buckle) are close to production, too. Amazingly, the belts are designed not to add any extra safety, but to simply encourage people to strap in.

Last but not least (and in happy news for parents) Mercedes is working on a new baby capsule design that can stream a live-feed of your child to the dash screen (when parked, when driving, the feed is replaced by emojis showing if your child is awake, asleep or crying), meaning you no longer have to peer over your shoulder.

The capsule can also measure heart rate, and taps into the cars pre-safe systems, including belt pre-tensioning and an plastic arm that deploys from the side of the capsule, holding it in place against the door in the case of an accident.

What is the most important safety feature when choosing a new car? Tell us in the comments below.