Automotive

Mercedes debuts prototype life-saving features on new Experimental Safety Vehicle

Mercedes debuts prototype life...
Visible cues on the car's grille signal to other drivers when the ESF 2019 is making room for them to merge in traffic
Visible cues on the car's grille signal to other drivers when the ESF 2019 is making room for them to merge in traffic
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The 1974 and 2009 Experimental Safety Vehicles introduced some significant new technology
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The 1974 and 2009 Experimental Safety Vehicles introduced some significant new technology
Visible cues on the car's grille signal to other drivers when the ESF 2019 is making room for them to merge in traffic
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Visible cues on the car's grille signal to other drivers when the ESF 2019 is making room for them to merge in traffic
If somebody's coming the wrong way down the highway, the ESF will get out of the way, and warn other cars behind it
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If somebody's coming the wrong way down the highway, the ESF will get out of the way, and warn other cars behind it
Where there's an accident up ahead on a highway, the ESF will pull over to create an access lane for emergency vehicles, and encourage other drivers behind it to do the same
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Where there's an accident up ahead on a highway, the ESF will pull over to create an access lane for emergency vehicles, and encourage other drivers behind it to do the same
The rear windshield screen can warn other following cars when the ESF detects that it's coming up on a traffic jam and about to slow down
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The rear windshield screen can warn other following cars when the ESF detects that it's coming up on a traffic jam and about to slow down
A robotic emergency road sign pops out of the car and rolls its way up the highway so other traffic can be made aware of an incident without the driver needing to get out of the car
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A robotic emergency road sign pops out of the car and rolls its way up the highway so other traffic can be made aware of an incident without the driver needing to get out of the car
Following cars can now "see through" the ESF at things like pedestrian crossings, so they know what's going on in front
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Following cars can now "see through" the ESF at things like pedestrian crossings, so they know what's going on in front
Visible signals on the front of the grille and in the "eyes" on the roof let pedestrians know that they're clear to cross and the car has seen them
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Visible signals on the front of the grille and in the "eyes" on the roof let pedestrians know that they're clear to cross and the car has seen them
The ESF will notice if a pedestrian is about to walk past it into cross traffic, and will light them up for the other cars to see, while also alerting the pedestrian with warning sounds
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The ESF will notice if a pedestrian is about to walk past it into cross traffic, and will light them up for the other cars to see, while also alerting the pedestrian with warning sounds
Likewise, it'll pre-detect possible collisions between cyclists and other road users when it's sitting parked, and will attempt to warn both parties
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Likewise, it'll pre-detect possible collisions between cyclists and other road users when it's sitting parked, and will attempt to warn both parties
A list of the ESF 2019's experimental safety features
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A list of the ESF 2019's experimental safety features
A swivelling child restraint system makes it easier to pop the kids in the back
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A swivelling child restraint system makes it easier to pop the kids in the back
Steering wheel and pedals retract when the car goes to self-drive mode
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Steering wheel and pedals retract when the car goes to self-drive mode
Flattened steering wheel gives a better view of the dash
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Flattened steering wheel gives a better view of the dash
Pre-safe Curve system tightens up the seatbelts when it detects a fast corner coming up
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Pre-safe Curve system tightens up the seatbelts when it detects a fast corner coming up
The ESF will detect a rear-ender about to happen, and if it's got room, it'll accelerate into open space to reduce the impact
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The ESF will detect a rear-ender about to happen, and if it's got room, it'll accelerate into open space to reduce the impact
Active Brake Assist will warn you if you're turning into cross-traffic, pedestrians or cyclists, and then intervene if you don't take appropriate action
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Active Brake Assist will warn you if you're turning into cross-traffic, pedestrians or cyclists, and then intervene if you don't take appropriate action
The front and rear of the car become information screens for other road users
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The front and rear of the car become information screens for other road users
Pedestrian protection systems will stop you from backing out of car parks if you're going to bump into somebody walking by
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Pedestrian protection systems will stop you from backing out of car parks if you're going to bump into somebody walking by
The ESF introduces rear airbags
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The ESF introduces rear airbags
The ESF 2019 is Mercedes-Benz's latest Experimental Safety Vehicle, with a swag of new safety ideas that may make their way into production cars before too long
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The ESF 2019 is Mercedes-Benz's latest Experimental Safety Vehicle, with a swag of new safety ideas that may make their way into production cars before too long
Baby got back
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Baby got back
The ESF's baby seat includes pre-crash features, as well as biometric readings, a baby camera and the facility to easily swivel it to help parents get kids in and out quickly
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The ESF's baby seat includes pre-crash features, as well as biometric readings, a baby camera and the facility to easily swivel it to help parents get kids in and out quickly
USB cables in the seat let passengers interface with the car's audio system and charge devices - but only when the seatbelts are clicked in
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USB cables in the seat let passengers interface with the car's audio system and charge devices - but only when the seatbelts are clicked in
Side airbags fluff out from behind the front seats
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Side airbags fluff out from behind the front seats
Rear airbags for back seat passengers
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Rear airbags for back seat passengers
Extending bars help passengers grab hold of their seat belts to put them on
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Extending bars help passengers grab hold of their seat belts to put them on
Front airbags pop out from behind the steering wheel
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Front airbags pop out from behind the steering wheel
Steering wheel and pedals retract when the car goes to autonomous mode
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Steering wheel and pedals retract when the car goes to autonomous mode

Mercedes-Benz has unveiled its latest Experimental Safety Vehicle, the ESF 2019, and with it a whole raft of innovative new technologies the company sees as potential life-savers in the coming decades. The particular focus this time around is the awkward transition period as vehicles move toward full autonomy.

This is the third Experimental Safety Vehicle concept from Mercedes, each designed to push the envelope on future safety technology. To give you an idea of how significant previous efforts have been, the first ESV back in 1974 introduced things like airbags, head restraints and seat belt tensioners, and the most recent one we covered way back in 2009 debuted intelligent headlights and pre-collision safety measures that have become standard on Mercedes' higher end models. Sadly, the super fun sounding braking bag idea hasn't broken through yet, but we digress.

The ESF 2019 is the company's latest future-forward ideas testbed, and it introduces some very interesting safety ideas for the next decade or two, in which autonomous systems will begin rolling out and interacting with live drivers.

Here are some of the key innovations it wants to bring to the table.

The rear windshield screen can warn other following cars when the ESF detects that it's coming up on a traffic jam and about to slow down
The rear windshield screen can warn other following cars when the ESF detects that it's coming up on a traffic jam and about to slow down

Visual communications

The front grille and rear windscreen of the ESF are big ol' screens designed to get important messages to other vehicles and road users. For example, if the car detects a traffic jam ahead on the freeway (either through its onboard sensors or via external communications), it can warn the cars behind that it's about to slow or stop.

It'll also give rear window warnings for things like icy surfaces, roadworks or cars ahead that are coming the wrong way up the highway, and in a traffic jam behind a crash incident, it'll encourage other drivers to pull over and create an emergency vehicle access lane, even as it does so itself.

Following cars can now "see through" the ESF at things like pedestrian crossings, so they know what's going on in front
Following cars can now "see through" the ESF at things like pedestrian crossings, so they know what's going on in front

In town, that rear window becomes even more interesting, displaying vision from the cameras on the front of the vehicle so that following cars can see what's happening at pedestrian crossings and the like. Telling them why you've stopped, in effect.

The front grille is simpler, and designed mainly to help the car communicate with other users while in autonomous mode, giving signals that you'd normally achieve through eye contact and hand gestures. "I see you, mr. pedestrian, you're ok to cross," for example, or "I see you trying to merge, and I'm creating space for you."

The ESF will notice if a pedestrian is about to walk past it into cross traffic, and will light them up for the other cars to see, while also alerting the pedestrian with warning sounds
The ESF will notice if a pedestrian is about to walk past it into cross traffic, and will light them up for the other cars to see, while also alerting the pedestrian with warning sounds

Protecting other road users, even while parked

Some of the ideas introduced by the ESF 2019 aren't even for the driver's own benefit. While the car's parked, for example, the ESF's sensor suite can stay active and do its part to help avoid accidents between cars and pedestrians, or cyclists.

If a pedestrian comes past the front of the ESF when it's parked, and the car detects that they might be about to walk into the path of a moving car, it'll light them up so the car can see them, and make audible warning noises. If the parked ESF detects another car about to turn in front of a cyclist that the ESF is obscuring from view, it'll flash warnings for both the cyclist and the driver to try to help avoid an incident.

Likewise, it'll pre-detect possible collisions between cyclists and other road users when it's sitting parked, and will attempt to warn both parties
Likewise, it'll pre-detect possible collisions between cyclists and other road users when it's sitting parked, and will attempt to warn both parties

There's also 360-degree pedestrian protection, which will kill the throttle and/or hit the brakes if it detects that you might be about to back out of a car space and into a pedestrian or cyclist – or even swing the front around into one as you reverse.

The ESF's baby seat includes pre-crash features, as well as biometric readings, a baby camera and the facility to easily swivel it to help parents get kids in and out quickly
The ESF's baby seat includes pre-crash features, as well as biometric readings, a baby camera and the facility to easily swivel it to help parents get kids in and out quickly

Child safety

The ESF's child seat is pretty nifty. For starters, it easily swivels to the side to make it easier than ever to get your kid in and out of their seat without twisting your back. You can then face it forward or backwards depending on your needs.

The seat also contains monitors to make sure you've installed and secured it correctly, that the child hasn't taken the seat belt off, and even biometric information like heart rate and waking/sleep state that are streamed to the front console along with baby cameras to help you keep an eye on what's going on. The theory here is that giving parents as much information as they need about what's happening with the kids can help them keep their eyes on the road when they're at the wheel.

The child seat is also integrated with the Pre-SAFE pre-crash system, which uses all sorts of sensors to detect that a crash might be imminent. When it figures a crash is unavoidable, it immediately pre-tensions the seat belt and extends a side impact protector toward the door side.

A robotic emergency road sign pops out of the car and rolls its way up the highway so other traffic can be made aware of an incident without the driver needing to get out of the car
A robotic emergency road sign pops out of the car and rolls its way up the highway so other traffic can be made aware of an incident without the driver needing to get out of the car

Robot warning triangle

It can be dangerous to get out of your car in the emergency lane on a freeway, so in the event that you have to stop in this kind of situation, the ESF has got your back. While warning messages flash on the rear windscreen, a little robot will pop out from between the rear axles and trundle itself down the road until it's reached a good distance to stay and pop up its bright warning triangle.

A second warning triangle also pops itself up on the roof. Cute! The fact that these processes are totally automated means they'll work just fine in a completely driverless situation, too.

Baby got back
Baby got back

Pre-SAFE gets smarter, including automatic pre-collision acceleration

The car's pre-collision system gains a bunch of new features. Some of them are as much about comfort as anything else, like the Pre-Curve function that uses GPS and front camera data to detect when you're about to hit a corner quite hard, and quietly pre-tensions the seatbelts so your passengers don't get flung around by g-forces.

Others are more passive, like a side lighting system that uses electro-luminescent light strips down the side of the car to make it impossible not to notice as it comes out of a side street.

And then there's the Pre-SAFE Impulse Rear system, which detects when the car's about to be rear-ended, and evaluates the space in front of the car – and if it's got room, it'll accelerate forward, hard. This has a double effect. Firstly, the acceleration pushes everyone back in their seats so they're in full contact with headrests and seat backs when the impact comes, and secondly, it reduces the impact speed differential to take a bit of energy out of the crash, as well as giving the car behind a touch more space to brake in. As soon as the crash has happened, the brakes come on, and the car attempts to make sure it doesn't whack into the one in front.

USB cables in the seat let passengers interface with the car's audio system and charge devices - but only when the seatbelts are clicked in
USB cables in the seat let passengers interface with the car's audio system and charge devices - but only when the seatbelts are clicked in

Seat belt encouragement

Seat belts are an automatic habit for most car users, but in order to bring rates of seat belt use upward, the ESF debuts some nifty helpers that nudge passengers toward putting the things on. For starters, there's neat little extending feeder loops that mean you don't have to reach back over your shoulder to find the belt, and little lights in the buckles to make clicking them in easier.

From there things get a touch more devious – there's USB-C ports in the buckles ready to charge passengers' phones or hook them in to the audio system, but they won't work until the seat belt's fastened. And there's also the new idea of heated seat belts, which encourage passengers to take off heavy coats that might interfere with proper belt positioning.

Rear airbags for back seat passengers
Rear airbags for back seat passengers

There's more, including back-seat airbags, side airbags that extend around from behind the shoulders of front-seat passengers, a flat-design steering wheel and pedals that retreat into the dash when the cars set to autonomous mode, and a brake assist system that'll flat out prevent you from pulling out of a side street if it detects you're going to put yourself in the path of oncoming traffic, pedestrians or cyclists.

Jump into the gallery to learn more!

Source: Mercedes-Benz

4 comments
sidmehta
Do whatever you want but give full control and override to the driver. Don't need more of 737 MAX type accidents. Remember the Tesla that couldn't see a tractor-trailer that was sideways and rammed right in to it?
StevenR
Clearly we should give up all the advances of this car because of two examples that went wrong. Humans have never caused accidents, right? Wait, I am getting an update here, as it turns out humans cause tons of accidents. The goal isn't perfection, that will never be reached, the goal is better than a human.
DomainRider
Some good safety ideas, but not entirely sure about accelerating hard when you're about to be rear-ended - the principle is good, but it absolutely depends on the front sensors functioning correctly, and in most rear-end situations, you will have slowed down because of an obstacle ahead, so the safety system won't operate anyway. The rear window signalling system is a good idea, but the signals look too small to be clearly visible at a useful distance. Also wondering if pedestrians and other road users will be able to understand the lights and sounds intended to help them.
guzmanchinky
I have a new E400 and it has already saved my wife from hitting someone who tried to slam on their brakes in front of her as insurance fraud. I have the dashcam video but I don't think I can post the link here. The car automatically slammed on the brakes and pulled the seatbelt tight (my wife said it hurts a little). This is why I love Mercedes, and growing up we had nothing but Benz's, my mother, being a trauma surgeon, knew a thing or two about what happened in car crashes (there are very few accidents) in the 80's...