by Adrian-Liviu Dorofte

Mercedes-Benz "Intelligent Drive" TecDay: Networked with all senses (I)

It first started ten years ago with PRE-SAFE® and continued with DISTRONIC PLUS, and in the space of the next few years it's due to take motoring into a whole new dimension at Mercedes-Benz: comfort and safety merged together as one, opening up all sorts of new prospects for motorists and car developers alike. Mercedes-Benz calls it "Intelligent Drive" – the next generation of the new S-Class will already boast an array of new systems designed to make driving an even safer and more comfortable experience.

Ever since the brand's earliest origins, the current flagship model from Mercedes-Benz has assumed a very special role - not just for the company, but for the automotive world as a whole. Because the S-Class has never ceased to keep raising technological standards, it has come to be a role model with symbolic status. A decade ago, PRE-SAFE®ushered in a new era of vehicle safety with the advent of technology that was able to detect the risk of an accident occurring in advance and prepare both vehicle and passengers for a possible collision. For the first time, active and passive safety technology worked together in synergy.

The next S-Class, which is receiving its premiere next year, will once again play its part as a trailblazer, as clearly exemplified by a preview of its innovative safety, assistance and lighting systems at the "Intelligent Drive" TecDay.

"The intelligent assistance systems of the future will be able to analyse complex situations and recognise potential dangers out on the road with the aid of improved environment sensor systems even more accurately than today," explains Prof. Dr. Thomas Weber, Member of the Daimler Board of Management responsible for Group Research and Head of Mercedes-Benz Cars Development. "Figuratively speaking, the next S-Class won't just have eyes at the front; it will have 360-degree all-round vision." Of crucial importance in this respect is the networking of all systems, or "sensor fusion" as the safety experts call it. Mercedes-Benz is continually enhancing the performance capabilities of its assistance systems with the aim of ensuring comprehensive protection, not just for the occupants of a Mercedes-Benz, but for all other road users, too.

The new systems hold tremendous potential for either preventing accidents or mitigating their consequences according to Prof. Weber: "Take, for instance, the new BAS PLUS assistance system with Cross-Traffic Assist. The results of our accident research based on the data from the GIDAS (German In-Depth Accident Study) indicate that it could either prevent or lessen the severityof 27 percent of all accidents at road junctions resulting in personal injury. That equates to some 20,000 accidents a year in Germany alone."

Here is a summary of the new assistance systems and those with notably enhanced functionality:

- DISTRONIC PLUS with Steering Assist helps the driver to guide the vehicle in its lane and can even follow the vehicle in front in slow-moving traffic automatically.

- For the first time, the Brake Assist system BAS PLUS with Cross-Traffic Assist is able to detect cross traffic and also pedestrians, and if necessary boost the braking power applied by the driver accordingly.

- PRE-SAFE® Brake can detect pedestrians and initiate autonomous braking to avoid a collision at speeds up to 50 km/h.

- PRE-SAFE® PLUS can recognise an imminent rear-end collision, prompting the PRE-SAFE® system to trigger occupant protection measures. It can also firmly apply the stationary vehicle's brakes in the event of a rear-end collision to prevent secondary accidents.

- With PRE-SAFE® Impulse, the driver and front passenger are pulled away from the direction of impact by their seat belts at an early phase of the crash before the resulting occupant deceleration starts to increase. This can substantially reduce the risk and severity of injuries in a frontal collision.

- Active Lane Keeping Assist can detect oncoming traffic and when the adjacent lane is not clear, and prevent the vehicle from leaving its lane unintentionally by applying the brakes on one side.

- Adaptive Highbeam Assist PLUS allows the main-beam headlamps to be kept on permanently without dazzling traffic by masking out other vehicles in the beams' cone of light.

- Night View Assist PLUS can alert the driver to the potential danger posed by pedestrians or animals in unlit areas in front of the vehicle by automatically switching from the speedometer display to a crystal-sharp night view image and highlighting the source of danger. A spotlight function is furthermore able to flash at pedestrians detected ahead.

- ATTENTION ASSIST can warn of inattentiveness and drowsiness in an extended speed range and notify the driver of their current state of fatigue and the driving time since the last break, as well as offering an adjustable sensitivity setting.

The safety experts from Mercedes-Benz developed and fine-tuned the new safety systems during countless test runs, but they also proved their effectiveness and acceptance with test subjects in the in-house "Moving Base" driving simulator. With its 360° screen, fast electric power system and the twelve-metre-long rail for transverse or longitudinal movements, the simulator is one of the most powerful of its kind in the entire automotive industry.

In addition to this, Mercedes-Benz is further increasing protection for passengers in the rear with the active seat-belt buckle and the beltbag. In contrast to many other manufacturers, the seat belts in the rear already include belt tensioners and belt force limiters today.

The new S-Class will also live up to its pioneering reputation when it comes to lighting technology. It is the first vehicle in the world to do without a single light bulb as standard. "With its long life and a headlamp colour temperature resembling daylight, LED technology already had a great deal in its favour," remarks Prof. Weber. "Now, though, our engineers have made great advances where energy efficiency is concerned too, reducing power consumption to a quarter of that of conventional headlamps." The lighting's multi-level functionality is another world first: out of consideration for any road users behind, the intensity of the brake lights is reduced at night-time or while waiting at traffic lights.

II. Interview with Prof. Dr. Thomas Weber

Prof. Dr. Thomas Weber is the Member of the Daimler Board of Management responsible for Group Research and Head of Mercedes-Benz Cars Development. We spoke to him about the potential of the new safety systems.

Prof. Weber, "Intelligent Drive" is the slogan for this TecDay. What exactly does Mercedes-Benz understand by this term?
Whereas before, assistance systems could be clearly classified under the categories of comfort or safety, the boundaries are more fluid today. For us, "Intelligent Drive" is the intelligent interlinking of sensors and systems to create a new dimension of motoring.

The car was already given the gift of sight some years ago thanks to a multitude of sensors and cameras. What new capabilities are being added now?
The intelligent assistance systems of the future will be able to analyse increasingly complex situations and recognise potential dangers out on the road with the aid of improved environment sensor systems even more accurately than today. Amalgamating the algorithms that extract their data from the further improved radar sensors and the new stereo camera is also crucial for the new functions. We call this "sensor fusion". The new Brake Assist system BAS PLUS with Cross-Traffic Assist, for instance, is now also able to detect cross traffic and pedestrians for the first time. And PRE-SAFE® PLUS can trigger precautionary measures when there is a risk of a collision from the rear. Figuratively speaking, the next S-Class won't just have eyes at the front, it will have 360-degree all-round vision.

You just mentioned pedestrian detection. So, the new safety systems don't just protect the Mercedes driver and their passengers, but other road users, too?
Yes, it shouldn't be just our own customers who reap the benefits of our superior safety expertise, but other road users as well of course. Take the spotlight function of the Night View Assist PLUS, for instance, which allows pedestrians to be spotted in the dark and flashed with pinpoint accuracy. By so doing, not only are we warning the driver, but the pedestrian, too. Another example is the new tail light clusters with their multi-level functionality. Here, the brake lights and indicators are operated at varying intensities depending on the current driving state. If the Mercedes driver presses the brake pedal while stopped at traffic lights, for instance, the brightness of the brake lights will be automatically dimmed to avoid dazzling anyone behind.

What sort of improvement in the accident figures do you expect the new assistance systems to bring about? Is the vision of accident-free driving due to become a reality soon?
The vision of accident-free driving spurs us on to set ambitious goals. At the same time, though, the vision of accident-free driving is exactly that: a vision. We work very hard to minimise the number of accidents and the severity of injuries with ever newer safety technologies and our own in-house accident research. But we can't promise the impossible, simply because humans are prone to make the occasional error – including at the wheel of a car. And this is precisely why we need new systems that come to the driver's aid in critical situations. Consequently, the new systems hold great potential. Take, for instance, the new assistance system BAS PLUS with Cross-Traffic Assist: the results of our accident research based on the data from the GIDAS (German In‑Depth Accident Study) indicate that it could either prevent or lessen the severity of 27 percent of all accidents at road junctions resulting in personal injury. That equates to some 20,000 accidents a year in Germany alone.

When will we get the autonomous car?
A decade ago, technologies that are taken for granted today were regarded by many as just wishful thinking. For that reason, I am certain that we will keep getting closer and closer to the notion of autonomous driving, too. By no means do we wish to take over control from the driver, however. Instead, the aim is to relieve motorists when driving is more of a burden than a pleasure – on the monotonous daily commute, for example, or in stop-and-go traffic. From a purely technical standpoint, that's already possible now to a certain extent. The new S-Class is equipped with systems that include the necessary means to do the same in complex traffic situations, too. In this way, comfort and safety systems merge together into a new dimension of motoring, opening up brand new prospects.

III. Under the microscope: the new sensors - Intelligent networking of eyes and ears

Highly sophisticated sensors and the necessary networked algorithms provide the foundation for innovative new functions. DISTRONIC PLUS with Steering Assist, BAS PLUS and PRE-SAFE® Brake all employ sensor fusion using the same stereo camera and multistage radar sensors.

Mercedes-Benz is making a major leap forward with the introduction of the Stereo Multi-Purpose Camera (SMPC), or stereo camera for short. Just like the Multi-Purpose Camera (MPC) fitted previously, it is positioned behind the windscreen in the vicinity of the rear-view mirror. It has an opening angle of 45° and is capable of three dimensional detection of crossing objects and pedestrians, and calculating their path. The camera's two "eyes" provide it with a three-dimensional view of the area up to around 50 metresin front of the vehicle, and it is able to monitor the overall situation ahead for a range of up to 500 metres. In this way, the new camera is able to provide data for processing by various systems.

Intelligent algorithms evaluate this information in order to detect and carry out spatial classification of both vehicles that are driving ahead, oncoming or crossing, as well as pedestrians and a variety of traffic signs within a large field of vision.

Whereas the stereo camera's lenses act as the car's eyes, the radar sensors are its ears, so to speak, and provide additional data. The system of radar sensors comprises two short-range radar sensors in the front bumper with a range of 30 m, opening angle 80°, which are complemented by a long-range radar sensor (range 200 m, opening angle 18°) including mid-range scan (60 m, 60°). The data from the camera and radars is amalgamated in a control unit in order to provide the system-specific data for the various functions.

Here is a summary of the sensors and cameras:

- Radars:

>> 2 short-range radar sensors at the front (30 m, 80°)

>> 1 long-range radar sensor at the front (200 m, 18°)
with mid-range detection (60 m, 60°)

>> 2 short-range radar sensors on the sides at the rear (30 m, 80°)

>> 1 multi-mode radar sensor at the rear (30 m, 80° and 80 m, 16°)

- Stereo camera (Stereo Multi-Purpose Camera, SMPC) located behind the windscreen in the vicinity of the rear-view mirror (range 500 m, incl. 3D capability for approx. 50 m, 45°)

- 12 ultrasonic sensors (4 each at the front / rear + 2 each on the left / right in the front and rear bumpers)

- 4 cameras as 360° camera system (1 each at the front in the radiator grille / at the rear in the boot handle recess / on the bottom of the exterior mirror housings, vertical approx. 130°, horizontal > 180°, resolution 1 megapixel (1280 - 800 px)

An extensive system of additional internal sensors is able to keep an eye on the current driving state and the driver's reactions. If the sensors detect a hazardous situation, they are able to feed the algorithms for all manner of assistance systems with data in order to provide just the right support for the specific situation.

IV. New assistance systems: The helpers in the background

Avoid accidents and mitigate their consequences - this is the integrated approach adopted by Mercedes-Benz Accident Research under the heading "Real Life Safety". Mercedes-Benz is systematically pursuing this strategy with numerous new assistance systems and greatly enhanced functions. The new functions all rely on the same sensor system, comprising a new stereo camera together with multistage radar sensors.

The support functions range from relieving the burden on the driver and therefore increasing comfort, to issuing visual, acoustic and/or haptic warning signals, to enhancing the driver's reactions. Some systems are even able to take corrective action in an emergency, such as autonomous applications of the brakes to prevent an accident or reduce its severity.

Comfort-enhancing assistance with lateral lane guidance: DISTRONIC PLUS with Steering Assist
The DISTRONIC PLUS adaptive control system is a driver aid designed to keep the vehicle at the desired distance from another vehicle in front that is travelling slower than the selected cruising speed. This radar-based function has now been enhanced by the addition of Steering Assist, which helps drivers to stay centred in their lane by generating the appropriate steering torque when travelling on a straight road and even in gentle bends.

The stereo camera recognises lane markings as well as vehicles driving ahead together with their three-dimensional positioning, and relays this information to the electric steering assistance system. When driving at slow speeds, e.g. in congested traffic, Steering Assist can use the vehicle ahead as a means of orientation, enabling semi-autonomous following even when there are no clear lane markings visible. As a result, the system is able to further enhance driving comfort and substantially ease the driver's workload in many traffic situations.

The new Steering Assist function integrated into the DISTRONIC PLUS system is predominantly based on the new stereo camera (see previous section). At the same time, the area in front of the vehicle continues to be monitored by two short-range radar sensors and a long-range radar sensor with medium-range detection. The system fuses the data gleaned from both technologies, calculates any reactions required, and then regulates the vehicle's speed as requirements dictate by controlling engine power, transmission and brakes, as well as actuating the electric steering for lateral vehicle guidance.

DISTRONIC PLUS with Steering Assist can be activated as before with a lever on the steering column in a speed range from 0 - 200 km/h. Any speed between 30 km/h and 200 km/h can be selected as the desired cruising speed. A green steering wheel symbol appears in the instrument cluster to indicate when Steering Assist is operating while DISTRONIC PLUS is activated. Meanwhile, longitudinal information (cruise control function) is still visualised in the speed display by means of circular segments and the speedometer needle.

Drivers must keep their hands on the steering wheel at all times even when Steering Assist is activated, as the function only works in bends above a certain, speed-dependent radius. Legal considerations also mean there are no plans to introduce hands-free driving. The system's design is so refined that the sensors can detect whether the driver's hands are actually on the steering wheel. If they are not, a visual warning is issued first. Should the driver fail to react to this prompt, a warning signal sounds and lateral lane guidance is deactivated. This does not affect the cruise control function, however, which continues to be operative. Needless to say, the driver is able to override the Steering Assist at any time. If the driver signals to change lane, for instance, the lateral guidance function will switch into passive mode for the duration of the lane change.

The longitudinal performance capabilities of DISTRONIC PLUS have been further refined. Now, the system is able to brake at a rate of up to 5 m/s² without any intervention from the driver. If the "S" drive mode button is pressed, the rate of acceleration increases, too. Vehicle acceleration is also more dynamic if the driver signals a wish to overtake by switching on the indicators, assuming the road is clear.

By combining radar and camera data, DISTRONIC PLUS is also able to detect both vehicles cutting in and vehicles ahead in adjacent lanes and take necessary action promptly. This can prevent illegal undertaking on motorways and multi-lane highways, for example, by adapting the speed to that of vehicles in the outside lanes.

Braking assistance for crossing traffic: BAS PLUS with Cross-Traffic Assist

City junctions are a major accident blackspot. The collisions here can mostly be put down to driver distraction or misjudgement. Whereas humans often react too slowly, assistance systems are immune to that brief moment of shock.

Apart from material damage, accidents at junctions often result in serious personal injuries, too. The new Brake Assist BAS PLUS from Mercedes-Benz is therefore capable of more than just helping the driver to avoid collisions with vehicles ahead or lessen their consequences in a purely longitudinal direction: the new Cross-Traffic Assist function can also come to the driver's aid when there is a risk of a collision with cross traffic at junctions.

If this anticipatory system detects a hazardous situation of this type, it prompts the driver to start emergency braking by activating visual and acoustic warnings. If the driver presses the brake pedal too tentatively, BAS PLUS will step in by automatically boosting brake pressure for effective emergency braking, even applying the brakes at full power if necessary. Applying just the right amount of braking power for the situation at hand maximises the available braking distance for traffic behind.

The Cross-Traffic Assist function is operative at speeds up to approx. 72 km/h, while BAS PLUS is able to aid the driver in longitudinal situations at any speed.

BAS PLUS with Cross-Traffic Assist is potentially able to either prevent or lessen the severity of approx. 27 percent of all accidents at road junctions resulting in personal injury. This equates to some 20,000 accidents a year in Germany alone (source: investigations carried out by the GIDAS German In‑Depth Accident Study and Mercedes-Benz Accident Research).

Detects broken lines too: Active Lane Keeping Assist

The new improved version of Active Lane Keeping Assist is now also able to intervene should the driver inadvertently cross a broken line when the neighbouring lane is not clear and changing lane could cause a collision as a result. The system can determine if this is the case using the information from the stereo camera and the radar system. The latter has been supplemented by a sensor at the rear, which works in unison with the other sensors in the front and rear bumpers.

Active Lane Keeping Assist is not only capable of recognising critical situations such as overtaking vehicles, vehicles to be overtaken and parallel traffic, it can also respond effectively to oncoming traffic. If the system detects the vehicle crossing the lane markings when the adjacent lane is not clear, not only does it cause the steering wheel to vibrate in pulses as a haptic warning for the driver, it guides the vehicle back into lane by single-sided braking via the ESP®. It thereby forms the ideal complement to the Active Blind Spot Assist, and also makes it possible for the first time to prevent collisions with oncoming traffic together with their often serious consequences.

Active Lane Keeping Assist is active at speeds between 60 and 200 km/h. If driver activity in the form of e.g. active steering, braking or acceleration is detected or when the indicators are switched on, both the warning and the corrective brake actuation are suppressed.

Now also recognises no-overtaking zones and access restrictions: Traffic Sign Assist

A new Traffic Sign Assist system which builds on the capabilities of the previous Speed Limit Assist represents yet another contribution to accident prevention from Mercedes-Benz. The system is now also able to recognise no-overtaking zones and alert drivers to access restrictions.

The camera on the inside of the windscreen continues to pick up speed limit signs, including those on overhead gantries and in roadworks, for example. The camera's data is cross-referenced against the information in the navigation system and can be displayed in both the instrument cluster and the map view. If the camera fails to spot any road signs showing a speed limit or a speed limit is lifted, the legal speed limits based on the navigation data are shown instead, such as a maximum speed of 100 km/hon country roads in Germany or 50 km/h in built-up areas.

No-overtaking zones and the signs signalling their end are also registered and displayed, while in the case of signs imposing access restrictions, an acoustic warning is additionally emitted together with a visual warning in the instrument cluster – an effective way of helping to prevent serious accidents caused by wrong-way drivers.

Visualising drowsiness: ATTENTION ASSIST

A quarter of all motorway accidents in Germany are put down to drowsiness, making it one of the most frequent causes of accidents, most of which are of a serious nature. In 2009, Mercedes-Benz presented ATTENTION ASSIST, which is able to detect tell-tale signs of inattentiveness and increasing drowsiness based on changes in steering behaviour and a host of other factors.
The system has been subject to ongoing development, and the latest version has the ability to detect drowsiness and inattentiveness across a far greater speed range from 60 - 200 km/h. The system's sensitivity can furthermore be adjusted, e.g. for drivers who already feel tired when they get behind the wheel.

A new menu in the instrument cluster display also makes the system more tangible and transparent for the driver by visualising the current ATTENTION ASSIST level and the driving time since the last break. What's more, it is also possible to see whether the system is active in the current driving situation. If the ATTENTION ASSIST warning recommending the driver to take a break is emitted, nearby service areas can be indicated in the navigation system.

The system can be deactivated by making the appropriate selection in the instrument cluster menu. However, it will always be automatically reactivated with the sensitivity setting last selected the next time the vehicle is started.

Automatic manoeuvring into and out of parallel and perpendicular parking spaces: Active Parking Assist

The Active Parking Assist is designed for automated parking with active steering and brake control in both parallel and perpendicular spaces. It is an advanced version of the PARKTRONIC system with Parking Guidance offered previously. What's more, the system is now also able to manoeuvre out of parallel parking spaces again all by itself with automatic steering and brake control, assuming the vehicle was parked there automatically previously.

When travelling at speeds below 30 km/h, ultrasonic sensors with an extended range in the bumpers' side sections survey the nearside of the road for suitable parallel and perpendicular parking spaces. The same procedure is carried out for the far side of the road if the driver indicates accordingly. A symbol in the instrument cluster shows that the system is in the process of measuring. If a suitable parking spot is identified, an arrow appears alongside the symbol indicating that the system is ready for automatic parking. All the driver now has to do to activate the system is engage reverse gear and confirm by pressing the OK button on the steering wheel.

Active Parking Assist steers and brakes the vehicle automatically as well as indicating the various driver actions required in the display, such as the transmission position to be selected. The driver moves the vehicle by lightly pressing the accelerator or releasing the brake.

Credits: Daimler AG

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