Mercedes-Benz has just given the world a look at some of the automotive safety systems of the future via a feasibility study on wheels called the ESF, which stands for Experimental-Sicherheitsfahrzeug (or Experimental Safety Vehicle). The German automaker has a long tradition of building these technology showcases. More than 30 such test vehicles have been created—and then often destroyed again in crash tests—since the 1970s, and many safety systems we take for granted today (such as ABS and ESP) were first trialed in them. Whatever you see in an ESF is technology that will very likely be used in the production cars of the future, and the latest version is packed with some pretty advanced features.
The 2019 ESF is based on a plug-in hybrid version of the Mercedes-Benz GLE and comes with Level 4 autonomy features, which means that a human driver isn’t technically needed anymore. It’s still designed to have one, though, but it will retract the steering wheel and the pedals when driving autonomously to reduce the risk of injury to the driver-turned-passenger. It also has a ton of other tricks up its sleeve to keep any human cargo safe. Reach the end of a traffic jam, for example, and it will slow down and stop at a safe distance from any cars in front of you. If it then detects that any vehicle approaching from the rear won’t be able to stop in time, it will automatically move forward to reduce the force of a rear impact.
Whenever a human is at the controls, it will also help to keep passengers safe by doing things like tightening the seatbelts when a driver is approaching a bend too quickly, or by deploying a new type of airbag at the front and the rear when a crash takes place. It also works toward avoiding collisions with other road users with the help of a function called Active Brake Assist, which scans for things like cyclists or pedestrians when approaching a junction or turning at a corner, and will first warn the driver and then stop the car automatically if it thinks a collision is imminent. In the unlikely event of a breakdown, it will even deploy a little robot that places itself behind the car and acts as a warning triangle.
One of the coolest features is probably the car’s ability to communicate with the world around it by means of interactive screens on the front grille and on the rear window. Approach a pedestrian crossing, for instance, and it will display a warning to cars behind you that are you stopping because someone is crossing the road. If a car is merging in front of you, it will send a visual signal that it has seen the car and is slowing down. Even when parked, the new ESF is trying to keep the world around it safe. Sensors are still monitoring the surroundings, and if a pedestrian is about to run out onto the road in front of the vehicle, the system will warn said pedestrian and any approaching cars via light signals. A new child safety system is also onboard, which does everything from communicating the child’s vital signs to the driver to extending a special protective structure from the child seat in case of a crash.
The design and some of the features of this safety-minded SUV might seem like sci-fi stuff right now, but most of it is already working technology that only needs some further development before it can be used in production vehicles. The idea of a car looking out for other road users is definitely interesting and commendable, but we can’t help but notice that the demo video is showing it driving on mostly empty roads. We’re pretty sure that it will be some time until it can cope with real-world traffic like what we have here in Metro Manila. Maybe Mercedes-Benz could add a Chaos Mode in the next ESF? It sure would come in handy.