The research field “Human, Society and the Automobile”

Oct 6, 2006
  • November 8, 1981: Foundation stone laid for Daimler-Benz AG’s new Research Center in Berlin
  • The driving simulator is a widely acclaimed innovation
A permanent abode for the Berlin Research Group: on November 8, 1981 the foundation stone was laid at the Berlin-Marienfelde plant for the new Research Center of the then Daimler-Benz AG. The company invested DM 25 million (approx. 12.8 million euros) in the construction of a driving simulator, among other things, in order to investigate the behavior of drivers and their vehicles in road traffic even more intensively in future. The program also included studies of a very general nature relating to the future of road traffic, the development of road safety, the reliability of energy supplies, and changing values in society.
The research field of Future, Transport and Environment supplemented DaimlerChrysler’s other research locations. It had already transferred its offices to Berlin in 1977, in time for the 75th anniversary of that plant. Initially 25 psychologists, information technology experts, economists, physicists, and transport engineers were employed there, working on a truly interdisciplinary basis: their activities dealt with the human and the vehicle, society and technology, road traffic and the transport environment, and microelectronics. The activities were systematically extended and the workforce increased accordingly, and the existing facilities soon proved too small. It was decided to establish a new building complex.
A good example of the activities of the Berlin Research Group is the local transport vehicle NAFA, which was created in 1981 in close co-operation with the Research Group and the company’s engineering research facilities. At the close of the 1970s, the researchers were investigating the leisuretime behavior of car buyers, in order to provide vehicles for various target groups and requirements. The two-seater NAFA was born of the idea of providing the driver of a large Mercedes-Benz sedan with a compact, but nevertheless comfortable city car, so that he or she could drive the sedan from the outlying areas to the edge of the city and change there into the two-seater for inner-city mobility. The NAFA provides the seating comfort of an S-Class, but requires only a tiny parking space, has space-saving sliding doors, and various drive concepts were also already planned – the basic concept was thus identical to the original smart city coupe, later to be named the fortwo.
The driving simulator came into operation in May 1985. It made for considerable progress in automotive development and was widely acclaimed as an innovation on the research scene worldwide. This is how it works: The test room is supported on movable, controllable hydraulic struts. Inside it is a 180-degree projection wall that realistically presents simulated traffic scenes complete with buildings, road signs, pedestrians and oncoming traffic. A vehicle is positioned in front of this projection wall; its control elements are connected via data lines to the driving simulator’s complex computer control system. And now the drive can begin: all steering, accelerating and braking maneuvers initiated by the driver are precisely recorded and reproduced by the computer control system. The projected traffic scenario constantly changes, and the chamber – which is in motion on the hydraulic struts – simulates the vehicle’s position in relation to the ground on a real-time basis, for example with lateral inclination or the diving motion that typically accompanies a braking maneuver. The illusion is perfect and even includes steering wheel return forces and the screeching of tires; the virtual drive is thus highly realistic. The researchers scrutinize the reactions of the human driver at the steering wheel, and of course they can also confront him or her with specifically selected situations. With the driving simulator, automotive design entered an entirely new era: for the first time, new technologies could be simulated and thus tried out prior to being actually constructed. The driving simulator also plays a role in external research projects.
In 1985, Daimler-Benz received the Innovation Award of German Industry for its driving simulator. The unit is constantly brought up to date with new technical developments; the company invested tens of millions of deutschmarks in this technology in 1994 alone, and a further three million euros in 2004. The illusion of driving is becoming in-creasingly perfect and the research findings more precise.
Today, in 2006, the Berlin Research Group comprises 280 employees. Hardly anything has changed in the fundamental orientation of their activities – as before they carry out future research, along with software and information technology. Many a project from the past 25 years has long since arrived from the future in the present and greatly benefits today’s automobiles.
The driving simulator plays an increasingly important role during the development of modern handling safety and driver support systems. The unit operated by DaimlerChrysler Research in Berlin-Marienfelde, which is among the most sophisticated driving simulators in the automobile industry, has therefore been continuously modernised in recent years.
The driving simulator in Berlin, 1985.
The driving simulator in Berlin, 1985.
The driving simulator in Berlin, 1985.
The driving simulator in Berlin, 1985.
NAFA – the short-distance vehicle
NAFA – the short-distance vehicle