In the event of an accident or mechanical issue, a robot can deploy from an under-bumper container of the experimental Mercedes ESF 2019 and scuttle away to position a red warning triangle. (Mercedes-Benz)

Mercedes reveals its Experimental Safety Vehicle 2019 – mobile robot included

Mercedes’ latest R&D concept incorporates safety assets seen as essential for autonomous vehicles.

Mercedes-Benz is among leading OEMs focusing on autonomous vehicle safety, and will showcase its latest concept in June at the Enhanced Safety Vehicles Technical Conference at Eindhoven, Netherlands. The event is sponsored by the U.S. DOT and NHTSA, in co-operation with ESV member countries. The Experimental Safety Vehicle (ESV) 2019, based on the GLE SUV, will make its first real public appearance at this year’s Frankfurt Motor Show in September.

The ESV incorporates several functions close to series production, while others are beyond the technology horizon. “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,” stressed Rodolfo Schöneburg, head of car vehicle safety at Mercedes-Benz. “And there will undoubtedly be mixed traffic consisting of automated and non-automated vehicles for many years. We are certainly not short of ideas for safety innovations!”

The ESV provides Mercedes’ engineers with a discussion basis and platform by revealing where emerging technology problems lurk. One important area is cabin configuration when a car is in autonomous mode. When the research car is travelling autonomously, the steering wheel and pedal cluster are retracted. Together with a level, padded floor, this reduces the risk of injury in a crash. Mercedes stated that 3.7% of the serious injuries (category AIS2+) sustained by front occupants and caused by components in the interior are mainly due to parts of the pedal cluster. (Findings: GIDAS 12/20181.)

Increased tension
Automated-vehicle passengers may not be in ideal seating positions in relation to present restraint systems, so new ideas are necessary. The ESV’s integrated front seatbelt system fits as closely as possible, even when the occupant is in a more relaxed position, and has an electrically powered belt tensioner. The tensioner reacts not just in established Pre-Safe system situations, but can respond at the moment of impact to ensure occupants are pulled back into a safer, more upright position.

Via environmental sensors, the tensioners are triggered even before impact and are described as being capable of a restraining effect comparable to that of a pyrotechnic belt tensioner. In the event of a crash, the protective effect can also be varied depending on an occupant’s size and weight. The belt tensioner is integrated into the backrest as part of the inertia-reel system, the belt fitting the body “as closely as possible” in all seating positions.

The ESV driver’s airbag is positioned in the dashboard, not the steering wheel, and its deployment concept 3-dimensional shape allows greater coverage. For a better view of the instruments and displays, and to position the airbag where it is least obstructed, the steering wheel is rectangular. The steering is by-wire, and Mercedes says its variable ratio makes it unnecessary for a driver to cross hands while steering.

Described as a completely new development to meet autonomous vehicle seating flexibility requirements, Mercedes has developed a new integra side airbag. Wing shaped, it deploys from each of the seat’s side bolsters, and is designed to wrap around the shoulders, arms and head of the seat occupant.

Rear messaging, deployable robot
When discussing safety systems, the rear windshield is a very rare subject. However, on the ESV it has an important role during interaction with following traffic. With an imbedded membrane which switches from transparent to opaque, it can become a screen for a laser projector in the luggage compartment. This can not only project symbols and text, but even the image of the front camera onto the rear window. If the car stops for a pedestrian, the rear windshield displays the reason; another element of car-to-car communication.

The rear windshield can also display emergency messages in the event of a road accident or mechanical breakdown. In such instances, a small robot can automatically emerge from the rear of the vehicle to place a warning triangle on the roadside, as another folds out of the vehicle’s roof.

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