Overcoming systemic limits for the safety of the future

The decision to present another ESF ten years after the ESF 2009 was taken in 2017. This time the deciding factor was the awareness that technical developments and the prospect of automated driving are changing the requirements for in-car safety technology. Just as the first wave of Experimental Safety Vehicles was a response to the mass motorisation of the 1960s and increasing accident figures, the new ESF reflects the mobility of the future and shows new approaches associated with automated driving. At the same time an ESF is always a technological advertisement for research & development progress in safety. The ESF 2019 not only presents innovations in Mercedes-Benz safety technology that go well into the future, but also developments whose entry into series production is currently being prepared for.

What should a safety system for an automated vehicle look like that is driven in mixed traffic with a changing infrastructure and with differently equipped roads users, sometimes automated and sometimes controlled by a driver? What classic passive safety systems need to be adapted? What additional, new possibilities for accident prevention and mitigation does the technology offer that is being developed in connection with automated driving?

Questions like these illustrate the changes to safety requirements since Mercedes-Benz conducted the first systematic crash tests 60 years ago. During the time of Béla Barényi, the Mercedes-Benz engineer responsible for a number of fundamental innovations for passive safety, the main focus was on the safety of the vehicle's own occupants. With the development of ABS, ESP® and today's driving assistance systems with the prospect of automated driving, accident prevention took on ever-increasing importance. A further, decisive aspect is added with vehicles capable of automated driving: How can the vehicle communicate and cooperate?

In spring 2017, work began on putting the ideas to be demonstrated in the ESF 2019 together. They included projects on which predevelopment work had been under way for years, but also new approaches that were no further than sketches on paper.

Multiple uses: showcar and development tool at the same time

The ESF 2019 stands for the objective of Mercedes-Benz to continue improving vehicle safety in the conditions posed by the mobility of the future. Questions of detail regularly arise during the process of formulating new regulations, standards and test procedures. The ESF provides the engineers with a discussion basis and platform by revealing where the problems lie, and what is important when resolving them – even when not all the sensors are fully mature in their development, for example. This discussion has only just begun in some of the areas addressed by the ESF 2019.

Typical features of the ESF 2019 include e.g. the steering wheel and the retractable pedal cluster, both of which are removed from the driver's area of movement to create more space when in automated mode. This also significantly reduces the risk of injuries to the lower extremities by the pedal cluster. On the other hand, the position of the driver in relation to the airbag is changed by relocating the steering wheel and by more comfortable, flexible seating. Whether this should result in modified requirements in future regulations and test ratings is best discussed using a real vehicle.

Accordingly the ESF 2019 is in some respects a preview of what is to come, in others a vision and in yet others an object for discussion and a working tool for further improvements to traffic safety in the great tradition of Mercedes-Benz.

Facts and figures for the ESF 2019

  • Number of additionally installed LEDs: 228 in the sensor housings and 49,152 in the front panel
  • Total weight of parts produced by 3D printing: approx. 7 kg
  • Surface area of laminated carbon-fibre: approx. 18 m2
  • Surface area of nappa leather: approx. 24 m2
  • Total length of orange thread used for topstitching: approx. 45 m
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