The shape of things to come: safety and comfort

Oct 10, 2018

Bringing the future to the present: This is something Mercedes-Benz does perfectly. Because the inventor of the automobile has been shaping technological evolution in the entire industry for 40 years by developing pioneering digital assistance systems. This success story starts in 1978 with the introduction of digital technology in cars in the shape of the anti-lock braking system (ABS). Assistance systems have been redefining the partnership between driver and car ever since: the vehicle is able to support its driver increasingly comprehensively and increasingly intelligently. Mercedes-Benz solutions that have continually set the benchmark for the entire industry since then include the Electronic Stability Program ESP® (1995) and DISTRONIC adaptive cruise control (1998). In this process, the individual systems and the domains of active and passive safety are becoming increasingly intertwined. The Integral Safety concept premiered in the 2000s. The Intelligent Drive concept made its debut at the start of the 2010s. Today these systems include numerous intuitive and intelligent technologies for the future of mobility: The car as an active partner accompanies the driver more competently than ever before on the road to realising the vision of accident-free driving. And development continues to advance at great pace as automated driving gets ever nearer. Mercedes-Benz and Robert Bosch GmbH will be testing it in urban day-to-day operation as part of a pilot project in a major city in California as early as the second half of 2019.

ABS: Digital technology arrives in the car

Maintaining full control over the car’s steering even under emergency braking, because the wheels do not lock: the anti-lock braking system (ABS) made this possible when it was introduced in 1978. This system developed by Mercedes-Benz and Bosch introduced digital technology to the car. It caused a sensation at a time when electrics and analogue electronics were still the norm. The origins of ABS at Mercedes-Benz go back to the early 1950s. The company then unveiled the analogue-electronic “Mercedes-Benz/Teldix Anti-Bloc System” at the end of 1970. It showed that the ABS principle worked but was ultimately not reliable enough for use in series production. This led to development of the second-generation ABS based on digital electronics together with Bosch, which was first unveiled in August 1978 and launched on the market in the same year. Today ABS in cars is a matter of course for virtually every manufacturer worldwide – thanks to the innovation culture at Mercedes-Benz.

The data supplied by the ABS sensors could also be used by other assistance systems such as anti-slip control (ASR) and the automatic locking differential (ASD) – available from 1986. They were the first assistance systems whose software was developed in-house. The newly developed 4MATIC traction system, a fast engaging and disengaging four-wheel-drive system, premiered in 1985. Mercedes-Benz introduced a newly designed 4MATIC system in E-Class model series 210 in 1997. It differed from the previous version by virtue of its permanent all-wheel drive and 4ETS (Electronic Traction System). Many assistance systems also increase safety – by helping to prevent accidents or mitigate their consequences – as well as enhancing comfort. Cruise control is an excellent example of this combination of safety and comfort. From 1975, it was optionally available for the S-Class as well as SL and SLC model series 107 in conjunction with automatic transmission.

ESP®: System networking

The Electronic Stability Program ESP® premiered in Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupé model series 140 in March 1995. It supported the driver in dynamically critical driving situations by applying a specific braking force on one or more wheels and – if necessary – by adjusting the engine torque. The system was jointly developed by Daimler-Benz and Bosch. It used a far more extensive sensor system than ABS and ASR, including steering angle, lateral acceleration and yaw rate sensors. This allowed detection of skidding movements, for example. ESP® became the worldwide standard after being retrofitted in the first-generation Mercedes-Benz A-Class (model series 168) in 1998. Now the compact-class car fared better than its competitors, even in extreme tests. In 1999, Mercedes-Benz then became the world’s first brand to equip all its passenger-car models with ESP® as standard. This is a prime example of the democratisation of high tech already established in the luxury class across all passenger-car model series. The ESP® success story soon continued at other manufacturers, too. The assistance system initiated by Mercedes-Benz and Bosch is a long-established global standard. In March 2009, the European Parliament even decided that, from November 2011, it would be mandatory for all newly registered passenger cars and commercial vehicles in the European Union to be equipped with ESP®.

The more sophisticated data processing involved in digital assistance systems meant that highly effective signal transmission was required. Mercedes-Benz established the technical basis for this in 1990 with the CAN bus. 500 E model series 124 was the first Mercedes-Benz vehicle to be equipped with this system. It was followed in 1991 by the new S-Class model series 140 – the first complete model series to feature this system. The Bosch-developed serial “Controller Area Network” bus system combined numerous control units throughout the entire vehicle. It marked a radical technological leap compared with the previously widespread cable harnesses with single-wire harnessing, whose wire strands reached overall lengths of up to 2000 metres by the end of the 1980s as well as weighing a lot. In this way, the CAN bus and later bus systems simplified in-vehicle networking significantly. A next important step was the electronics architecture presented in the Mercedes-Benz CLK of model series 208 is a world first. For the first time, it connects all control units via three bus systems. In addition, it integrates the electronic ignition switch with key fob.

Mercedes-Benz unveiled the navigation system APS (Auto Pilot System) in 1995, implementing ideas from in-house research that stretched back to 1970. This system offering full everyday practicality only became possible when permission was given for free use of the signals from the GPS (Global Positioning System) satellites and when the required large-scale production technology became available. Increasingly intuitive vehicle control was possible thanks among other things to the SBS voice control system introduced in 1996, known as LINGUATRONIC since 1997.

DISTRONIC: The car learns to see

DISTRONIC adaptive cruise control had its world premiere in 1998 as an optional extra in S-Class model series 220. The system used radar to monitor the traffic continuously from three defined angles. Providing there was no vehicle driving directly in front of the car, the cruise control maintained the programmed speed. If the distance to another vehicle shortened, however, DISTRONIC decelerated the car by intervening to adjust the engine, brakes and automatic transmission. As soon as the lane became free, the assistance system accelerated the car back up to the programmed speed. This process took place fully automatically, initially in a speed range from 40 to 160 km/h. This was followed in 2005 by the enhanced DISTRONIC PLUS, which worked in the speed range of 200 km/h to standstill. This was possible thanks to the integration of a short-range radar.

As a result, more and more sensors are used to help the car to observe its surroundings, ultimately in a range of 360 degree and with an increasingly long range in the direction of travel. Today these include long, medium and short-range radars, stereo cameras, conventional cameras, and ultrasonic sensors. The Mercedes-Benz PARKTRONIC parking aid available from 1995, for example, calculated the distance to an obstacle using ultrasonic signals. The interfaces between driver and car are becoming increasingly intelligent, too. By way of example, the Brake Assist BAS unveiled in 1996 enabled the car to detect the driver performing an emergency stop and immediately boosted the brake force to its maximum level. The COMAND (Cockpit Management and Data) system presented in 1998 created a new dimension in interaction between driver and vehicle.

Integral Safety concept

Mercedes-Benz grouped together the numerous capabilities the car acquires as a result of technology development and diversification under the heading “Integral Safety” in 1999. This concept was implemented extensively in series production in 2005. It included assistance systems and numerous other solutions for active and passive safety. As early as 2002, Mercedes-Benz implemented central ideas of this philosophy in the PRE-SAFE® anticipatory occupant protection system. PRE-SAFE® was possible because the intelligent car used its sensors to detect typical signs of an impending accident. PRE-SAFE® becomes active when the car registers such signs. If an accident is avoided, the PRE-SAFE® actuators can be reset to their original state. The first decade of the new millennium was marked by massive momentum in the development of new and improved assistance systems, including Adaptive Brake Lights, BAS PLUS Brake Assist (2005), PRE-SAFE® Brake and Intelligent Light System (2006), Blind Spot Assist (2007), Active Parking Assist (2009), ATTENTION ASSIST, Adaptive Highbeam Assist, Lane Keeping Assist (all 2009), Active Blind Spot Assist, and Active Lane Keeping Assist (2010). Mercedes-Benz introduced these solutions into series production as components of a harmonious ensemble.

Intelligent Drive: Driving into the future

In 2013, the highly automated Mercedes-Benz S 500 INTELLIGENT DRIVE research vehicle drove through cities and along country roads. The drive followed the historical route from Mannheim to Pforzheim, on which Bertha Benz had completed the first long-distance drive in a car in 1888. Mercedes-Benz was therefore the world’s first manufacturer to show how automated driving could be possible, even in complex traffic zones.

Intelligent Drive was also the name given to the new Mercedes-Benz philosophy for networking all in-car driver assistance and safety systems, marking a definitive merging between comfort and safety. Mercedes-Benz unveiled important functions of Intelligent Drive as early as 2012, including DISTRONIC PLUS with Steering Assist, BAS PLUS with Cross-Traffic Assist, PRE-SAFE® Brake with pedestrian detection, PRE-SAFE® PLUS with detection of imminent rear-end collisions, PRE-SAFE® Impulse, Active Lane Keeping Assist, Adaptive Highbeam Assist Plus, Night View Assist Plus, and ATTENTION ASSIST with extended speed range.

The continuous further development of successful assistance systems is part of Mercedes-Benz’s long-term strategy for safety development, never losing sight of the vision of accident-free driving. This allows the brand to develop the PRE-SAFE® occupant protection system by incorporating further innovations such as PRE-SAFE® Sound and PRE-SAFE® Impulse Side, for instance. PRE-SAFE® Sound can induce an endogenous mechanism to protect the hearing, meaning that PRE-SAFE® addresses a human sensory system for the first time. PRE-SAFE® Impulse Side is activated on the basis of radar information and can rotate the driver or front passenger inwards away from the danger zone with a light side impulse.

Mercedes-Benz unveiled the next dimension in comprehensive driver support under the banner “Intelligent Drive Next Level” in 2017. It included numerous new and enhanced assistance systems. In 2018, the new A-Class likewise offers the latest driving assistance systems with cooperative driver support and is able to drive semi-autonomously in certain situations. In terms of safety technology, this puts it on a par with the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and at the same time sets a new benchmark in the compact-car segment.

2018 also marked the end of the Intelligent World Drive across all five continents: This involved Mercedes-Benz performing automated test drives in real-life traffic with a test vehicle based on the S-Class. The drive towards the future and the reality of fully automated and driverless driving is continuing, taking in California, for example, where Mercedes-Benz and Bosch will establish a pilot project for a major test with fully automated shuttles in 2019.