Looking into the future at Mercedes-Benz

23 November 2012
, CarsGuide
Looking into the future at Mercedes-Benz
Using an inflatable Mercedes to test automatic braking systems.

For many decades the Mercedes-Benz S-Class has been used to introduce important new technology to the world. Technology that has saved countless lives and/or has made life simpler for drivers and passengers worldwide.

Safety technology that is introduced in the flagship S-Class eventually filters down into the lower cost models Mercedes range. Much of it, particularly that directed at road safety, eventually reaches right down to the lowest end of the car market. What is standard in a $250,000 Mercedes today is likely to be normal fitment in a $13,990 car by the year 2030. Maybe even sooner, given the accelerating rate of change in today’s electronic fields.

I’ve spent an intense and interesting day at the Mercedes-Benz research facilitates in Sindelfingen near Stuttgart in Germany. The first look into the future I experienced literally was seeing the future. The future that was only a few seconds down the road. ‘Intelligent headlights’ may almost sound like a nonsense term, but after witnessing the system I was totally convinced that it will save lives and make driving at night more relaxing.

Rather than simply having a choice between high-beam and low-beam the Mercedes system automatically gives you as much light as possible in exactly the right spots. Using lights that not only vary in intensity, but also move from side to side as well as up and down spreads the light widely and lets you see far more than you would have thought possible. Doing so without dazzling drivers of other vehicles.

Even more impressively, the Mercedes ‘looks’ for roadside dangers by way of cameras and radar and flashes extra light on them. For example, the car will ‘see’ pedestrians and larger animals. This not only helps the driver see the pedestrian, but also alerts the person on foot to the car’s presence.

At the other end of the new Mercedes S-Class the taillights and brake lights vary in intensity according to ambient light conditions. Thus they show maximum light in when there’s a lot of light around the car, such as in cities, but less when the car is in darkness. Again making life easier for drivers of other cars as they experience less dazzle.

How many light globes do you think the new Mercedes S-Class has? If your answer was ‘lots’, or ‘dozens’, or just plain ‘many’ then you are a long way off the track - because the big Benz has a grand total of zero light globes!

Instead of globes it uses hundreds of LED lights that use tiny amounts of energy when compared with conventional lights. Which translates into lower fuel consumption as there’s no need for a large alternator producing lots of electricity. Every little bit helps in the search for ways of slowing climate change.

Safety belts have been around in cars since 1959 when the ubiquitous lap-sash units were introduced by Volvo and don’t seem all that different today. Until now, because Mercedes engineers have reinvented the safety belt. The biggest change is that the belts are noticeably more comfortable to wear. They have a slimmer design in their width, but are thicker and softer in depth.

Hopefully this new shape will encourage people to wear safety belts correctly and not use them tucked under in dangerous ways or held out from their bodies to improve comfort.

Of course, safety belts are there primarily for safety. So the new belts in the Mercedes-Benz S-Class will have inbuilt airbags in the units used in the rear seats. These airbags expand the width and depth of the belt during a crash to not only provide better protection, but also to minimise bruising on your body.

For some time now we have been driving Mercedes, and other cars, that can look ahead and behind to warn of possible dangers. The all-new S-Class takes this further, with the car monitoring the area almost 360 degrees around it and alerting the driver to possible dangers.

If the driver ignores the alerts or doesn’t take enough action to avoid the problem the car will take control and brake and/or steer its way clear. If that’s not enough it will do everything it can to mitigate the collision forces.

Mercedes is keen to stress this semi-autonomous behaviour by the car should not be regarded as an invitation to inattention. The responsibility is on the driver at all times to concentrate. I’ve long used the mantra that drivers should have two hands on the wheel, two eyes on the road and all their attention on driving.