HERE’S an SUV sure to score a 5 star ANCAP rating. Dubbed the Mercedes-Benz ESF 2019 concept, it previews more than a dozen cutting-edge safety innovations currently being explored to make our roads safer.
Based on the GLE SUV and fitted with a plug-in hybrid powertrain, the concept is capable of Level 4 autonomy and boasts a retractable steering wheel and pedals. It communicates with pedestrians and other road users via lights in the LED grille and on the roof, and even shouts audible warnings and flashes a special luminescent paint to alert others.
The audible warning is especially interesting. If the SUV detects a pedestrian or cyclist is about to step into a dangerous situation, it will shout “Watch out!” and shine the headlights on the hazard to warn other road users.
Another key innovation is the airbags. A problem with driverless cars is that the front-seat occupants mightn’t be in the ideal position for conventional airbags to be effective. They might be reclined, for example. Mercedes has sought to address this by fitting the airbag into the seat itself so the level of protection is unchanged even if the seat is moved.
The front seatbelts are integrated into the seat to improve the geometry of their mounting points if the seat is reclined. The GLE also debuts a new system dubbed ‘Pre-Safe Curve’ which integrates with the sat-nav and warns front occupants if they are entering a corner too quickly by lightly tightening the belt.
Rear-seat passengers also score specially developed airbags, designed to reduce head and neck injuries in an accident. Unlike conventional airbags, those fitted to the rear only inflate the edge of the structure, while the centre is filled with a special fabric to minimise harm to young passengers.
Another innovative system is ‘Pre-Safe Impulse Rear’, which constantly monitors for rear-end collisions. If the system detects an accident is imminent, it autonomously moves the car forward to reduce the ferocity of the impact and the harm to occupants.
“This is a huge challenge for the sensors,” said one Mercedes engineer. “The car has to be sure the space in front of the car is absolutely free of things to hit, and then it provides maximum power and then maximum braking in an instant.”
Another intriguing function is a small, autonomous robot that deploys from the rear of the GLE if an emergency situation is detected. The robot carries a warning triangle and positions itself on the road away from the car to warn others.
The ESF19 is the latest in a series of safety studies by Mercedes-Benz that stretches back nearly 50 years. The ESF (Experimental Safety Vehicles) program began in 1971 and has since helped develop key safety milestones now fitted to millions of car around the globe.