Mercedes’ Experimental Safety Vehicle Demonstrates Next Generation Tech

  • Nick Jaynes has worked for more than a decade in automotive media industry. In that time, he's done it all—from public relations for Chevrolet to new-car reviews for Mashable. Nick now lives in Portland, Oregon and spends his weekends traversing off-road trails in his 100 Series Toyota Land Cruiser.

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For the last 50 years, Mercedes-Benz has been rigorously studying real-world crash data. Since 1971, the German automaker has been building Experimental Safety Vehicles (ESF) to demonstrate its latest developments and thinking in the space of automotive safety. For 2019, the ESF takes on autonomy — with both short- and long term safety solutions and innovations.

  • Mercedes’ latest Experimental Safety Vehicle is based on a GLE plug-in hybrid with a focus on autonomy.
  • One of the goals of the concept is to allow the vehicle to communicate intention of movements with other road users.
  • Mercedes DIGITAL LIGHT features headlights with up to 2 Million pixels to not only illuminate the road but signal others.
  • A 360 degree monitoring system around the vehicle will warn the driver of hazards and even take action if it feels a collision in iminent.
  • If the car is involved in an accident, a roboticized road hazard triangle will deploy from the trunk.

This year’s car is based on the GLE plug-in hybrid (PHEV) model. This is because Mercedes understands that automated driving and electrification will go hand-in-hand in the future of mobility.

The concept that vehicle occupants will want to enjoy more flexible seating positions when their car is handling driving duties was the chief principle leading the 2019 ESF build. Accordingly, most of the dozen-or-so innovations demonstrated with the car are seatbelt related. While undoubtedly important, they’re not deeply exciting or awe inspiring. So, let’s start with the more riveting features.

ESF 2019 uses lights to signals its intentions. It can also warn of dangers it detects. This could help foster “informed trust” between a self-driving vehicle and those around it. | Photo: Mercedes-Benz

 

Mercedes dives right into it release on the ESF stating that self-driving cars in the future will need to intuitively communicate its intentions with fellow road users without the human driver having to do any sort of gesturing or signaling. Like most automakers that bring up this idea, Mercedes doesn’t really address the issue head on. Instead, it boasts the ESF features HD headlights — up to two million pixels — called DIGITAL LIGHT (their branding is in caps, I’m not yelling) that include “dazzle-free” high beams.

ESF is able to flash lights at pedestrians and other road users to indicate what it is doing. This, without blinding them.

Speaking of blinding lights, when the human driver is handling driving duties, the ESF can emit sunlight-like light from the sun visor, which can help keep the driver alert. Although I assume this is actually a very gentle light and a really natural way to keep a human bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, in my mind’s eye it sounds migraine inducing. I’m sure it’s not that bad.

Moving on, ESF features 360-degree monitoring. This can recognize, say, a bicyclist traveling next to the vehicle in the same direction. Should the human driver not notice the cyclist and the car calculates a collision is imminent, through either turning into the cyclist’s path or similar, ESF will alert the driver. If the driver doesn’t take action, autonomous braking will kick in to prevent a collision.

Perhaps the most distinctive — and admittedly cartoonish — safety concept is implemented should the car get into a crash. ESF includes a robot that deploys from the rear of the car in the event of a crash and positions itself roadside to act as a hazard warning triangle. Plus, should the robot not do the trick, a larger reflective safety triangle can fold out of the roof to alert oncoming traffic of the crash.

A roof warning triangle can warn even if the automated vehicle is on the road without a driver. | Photo: Mercedes-Benz

 

I applaud Mercedes for its innovations and its careful thinking when it comes to how automated vehicles will not only keep occupants safe but also communicate to those around them on the road. I worry, though, that brands like Benz are still speaking too abstractly. That, or they’re bringing up topics, like flashing light signals and not fully answering them.

If you want to inspire trust in automated vehicles, which is at a severe deficit, automakers need to come up with concrete ways to assuage fears and demonstrate mastery of self-driving vehicle safety. And, I hate to say it, but a bunch of seatbelt innovations just isn’t the way.


About the Author

  • Nick Jaynes has worked for more than a decade in automotive media industry. In that time, he's done it all—from public relations for Chevrolet to new-car reviews for Mashable. Nick now lives in Portland, Oregon and spends his weekends traversing off-road trails in his 100 Series Toyota Land Cruiser.

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