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Special report: ‘Thinking’ technology makes safety a priority

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How important is safety to this year’s new Mercedes-Benz E-Class?

Well, it has been crash tested more than 17,500 times. So, very important would be the answer.

Indeed, as a first introduction to the new car, the German giant chose to highlight its multitude of safety systems rather than design, handling or build quality, proving that keeping drivers, passengers and pedestrians safe ranks at the top of its ‘to do’ list.

And in order to keep those people safe, it is introducing a number of systems that are pioneering, with many finding their way across the rest of the Mercedes-Benz range in the near future.

Combined they are intended to allow the car to ‘think’ – one that can see and sense danger, and then act autonomously.

These have been tested in a virtual crash test world many thousands of times, so that when the firm came to actually crunching metal, it knew exactly how the car would react.

So powerful are these computers and so vast their data, that engineers said the pixellated E-Class performed in exactly the same way as the real one.

Lane Keeping Assist

Many cars now have lane keeping assistance, but Mercedes-Benz has developed the system further.

A camera keeps a constant eye on the line taken by the car and the driver’s control inputs, allowing it to detect when the car leaves its lane unintentionally and if there is a risk of an accident. It can then either counter steer or make the steering wheel vibrate.

By measuring all factors including steering angle, the extra intelligence can work out whether the car has left its lane intentionally, so there would be no warning if, for example,
the driver accelerates before overtaking or joining a motorway, brakes heavily or steers
into a bend.

Speed Limit Assist

A camera on the windscreen of the E-Class can detect speed-limit signs and then indicate the speed limit on the display in the speedometer.

Alongside the camera, data in the satellite navigation system is used to double-check the limit. It makes no difference where the speed limit is displayed, as long as it is on a circular sign.

Night View Assist

First introduced on the current S-Class, the second-generation Night View Assist has a special pedestrian detection function.

By throwing an invisible cloak of infra-red light over the road ahead, and using sensors to detect human movement, the driver is warned on the screen of pedestrians that are out of range of the headlights.

High Beam Assist

Tests have shown that drivers using Mercedes-Benz’s Adaptive High Beam Assist are safer in the dark because they see pedestrians, cyclists or obstacles on the road up to 150 metres earlier than is the case with conventional low beam.

The firm also claims it is less stressful.

Light is thrown on to the opposite side of the road on full beam then, using a camera which picks up oncoming traffic, the beam’s range is adapted as the car nears.

What this means is that the low-beam range can be increased from 65 metres to up to 300 metres without dazzling other motorists.

At the heart of the system is a camera located on the inside of the windscreen, which sends new data every 40 milliseconds so that the range of the variable-control bi-xenon headlamps can be adjusted.

Testing the system, you can clearly see the pool of light sitting in front of the approaching car, mirroring its movement.

It means that the maximum possible stretch of road is illuminated at all times.

Attention Assist

Highly sensitive sensors monitor the driver’s behaviour, driving style and current driving situation and more than 70 other parameters including longitudinal acceleration, the use of the indicators and pedals as well as certain control inputs and external influences such as side winds or road unevenness, for example.

By doing this, the system is able to understand when the driving situation has changed into a pattern it recognises as not having full control of the car and issue a series of beeps and a flashing image on the display.

Rather than use cameras looking at the driver’s face, favoured by other manufacturers pioneering these types of system, Mercedes-Benz believes its approach is best because drivers wearing glasses don’t confuse it, and it is cheap enough to be able to be fitted as standard to all E-Classes.

PRE-Safe

As standard, all E-Class models will be fitted with PRE-Safe using, for the first time, short range radar to identify situations that might turn into accidents.

It can instinctively activate preventive occupant-protection measures, allowing the seat belts and airbags to deploy with maximum effect in the event of an impact.

Using the information provided by the radar to trigger the seat belt tensioners at the very last moment before an unavoidable collision, the forces exerted on the driver and front passenger can be greatly reduced.

The car will also go into maximum emergency braking automatically if a crash is inevitable and the driver has failed to react to the warnings given by Brake Assist PLUS.

At around 1.6_seconds before the impact, the system initiates autonomous partial braking and decelerates the car with around 40% of the maximum braking power.

At 0.6 seconds, it brakes fully creating an electronic ‘crumple zone’ before the impact.

Engineers claim that braking fully any earlier would make the system unsafe – it has to be absolutely certain of collision before slamming on the brakes.

Pedestrian protection

Standard equipment for the new E-Class includes an active bonnet, which reduces the risk of injury to pedestrians from body parts hitting the engine through the bonnet.

In the event of an accident, a system of springs, fired by sensors at leg height in the bumper, raises the rear section of the bonnet by 50 millimetres, ensuring a deformation zone which offers crucial space between the pedestrian and the engine.

Drivers can reset the Mercedes-Benz active bonnet themselves without having to visit a workshop – particularly handy as an animal strike near the sensors would ‘pop’ the bonnet.
 

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