TecForum 2013: New Assistance Technologies for a New Dimension of Active Safety in Vans
Electronic helpers prevent accidents
Although mitigating the effects of accidents is an important concern, preventing accidents from occurring is even more crucial. To make this possible, new assistance systems will provide Mercedes-Benz van drivers with additional support in the near future. A crucial benefit of the new electronic helpers is that they will help prevent many accidents from occurring in the first place. The developers at Mercedes-Benz are convinced that this new dimension in van safety technology will have a very positive effect on accident statistics.
The new van assistance systems are currently in their final stage of development and testing. They will be gradually introduced in the coming months and years, further boosting the already unmatched level of safety in vans from Mercedes-Benz. Depending on the technology, range of application, and model, the new safety systems will be available in Mercedes-Benz vans and delivery vehicles as either standard or optional features. This allows every Mercedes-Benz Vans customer to opt for maximum safety in line with the specific application requirements.
In the development of new assistance systems, the engineers at Mercedes-Benz Vans benefit from their proximity to Group Research and to their counterparts at the car and heavy-duty commercial vehicle units. In addition, Mercedes-Benz maintains close contact with insurance companies so that the new assistance systems will have a positive effect not only on road traffic and accident statistics, but also directly on the customers’ wallet.
World premiere: Crosswind Assist for vans
As another safety technology milestone, the Crosswind Assist is about to celebrate its world premiere in vans. Within the limits of what is physically possible, the system almost completely offsets the effects of crosswind on vehicles. It greatly reduces driver stress, as motorists no longer have to steer against sudden gusts of wind. Crosswind Assist is based on the standard-fitted Electronic Stability Program (ESP) and is activated at speeds of 80 km/h and more.
Crosswind Assist was developed to deal with the special characteristics of vans. Large vehicles with raised roofs and/or long wheelbases for the transportation of voluminous cargo have especially large surfaces on which crosswind can take effect. As a result, drivers have to be prepared to encounter and react to sudden gusts of crosswind when they are traveling through gales, crossing bridges, or leaving the slipstream of a truck.
Automatic braking measures help prevent vehicle drifting
Crosswind Assist greatly reduces driver stress in such situations, as the standard-fitted ESP system features sensors for measuring the yaw rate and lateral acceleration so that it can determine the force exerted by crosswind and gusts. To counteract this force, the automated system brakes specific wheels on the windward side of the van. The resulting rotary and yaw motions cause the vehicle to steer in a corrective manner and prevent it from drifting, which otherwise might have dangerous consequences.
Thanks to Crosswind Assist, vans remain firmly on course, even if they suddenly encounter strong gusts, for example when crossing bridges or overtaking trucks. The system minimizes the effects of wind and aims to prevent the vehicle from moving more than 50 centimeters sideways, even when encountering strong gusts.
The ESP sensors can determine the strength and flow angle of steady and intensifying crosswinds as well as of sudden gusts. The system’s response is also governed by other factors, such as vehicle speed, load weight, cargo location, and the driver’s steering behavior. Should the motorist manually counteract the force of the wind, his or her steering movements will automatically override Crosswind Assist.
The safety system is specifically adapted to each vehicle model and surface area. A control light notifies the driver when the assistant system goes into action, thus informing him or her of the current driving situation.
Collision Prevention Assist: Warns of impending collisions
One of the most dangerous traffic situations occurs when vehicles are too close to one another. Analyses conducted by the Mercedes-Benz Accident Research department have shown that radar-based assistance systems could prevent a significant proportion of rear-end collisions or at least substantially reduce the severity of the accidents.
In response to this finding, Mercedes-Benz Vans will be celebrating another premiere in this vehicle class by introducing the proximity warning assistant. The system is not designed to prevent minor accidents in inner cities at low speeds, but instead to provide protection against severe rear-end collisions. The system warns the driver when the van gets too close to another vehicle and intensifies the alarm if the dangerously short distance is further reduced so that there is a high risk of collision.
The radar-based proximity warning assistant helps drivers maintain a safe distance from vehicles up ahead. A radar sensor in the front bumper continuously measures the distance to any vehicle traveling ahead in the same lane as well as the relative speeds between the two vehicles. On the basis of this data, the proximity warning assistant determines how great the distance should be to ensure safety.
Insufficient braking distance alarm
If the distance from a vehicle up ahead drops to one fourth or less of the required braking distance, the assistance system flashes a light in the instrument cluster to warn the driver. The flashes become more frequent and an alarm sounds if the likelihood of a collision is increasing because the distance continues to drop and the traffic situation remains unchanged. This second alarm stage is triggered about three seconds before impact, allowing the driver to hit the brakes or take evasive action.
Brake Assist pro: Pinpoint emergency braking
Whenever there is danger of a collision, the proximity warning assistant also activates another new system: Brake Assist pro. This adaptive brake assistant calculates the force needed for pinpoint emergency braking so that the remaining distance can be optimally used for braking to prevent a collision. Drivers activate the brake assistant by forcefully stepping on the brake pedal. To ensure pinpoint braking during the braking maneuver, the system can raise or lower the braking force in accordance with the data provided by the proximity warning assistant.
The proximity warning assistant is activated at speeds of 30 km/h or more. The system reacts not only to vehicles traveling up ahead but also to stationary obstacles such as traffic jams.
Blind Spot Assist: Increased safety when changing lanes
Drivers have to be able to make safety-related decisions within seconds when changing lanes in cities or overtaking other vehicles on highways or country roads. All of the vans from Mercedes-Benz are equipped with large exterior mirrors that offer a wide field of vision and, in many cases, are supported by wide-angle auxiliary lenses. Drivers get additional help from Blind Spot Assist, which is also celebrating its van debut. When changing lanes, the system warns drivers if vehicles are traveling in the blind spot.
The new Blind Spot Assist system is activated at speeds of 30 km/h or more. The system uses four short-range radar sensors, which are located on the left and right-hand sides at the height of the lateral rub panels. The sensors are positioned in the area of the B-pillar and the rear corner pillar, from where they scan the adjacent lanes. If the sensors detect a car or motorcycle in the driver’s blind spot while traveling, a red warning signal lights up in the exterior mirror on the side where the vehicle is located. If the safety system detects that the driver wants to change lanes despite the warning, it will also sound an alarm.
Lane Keeping Assist: Warns drivers of lane departures
Unintended lane departures caused by distractions or the driver's inattention are even more dangerous than careless lane changes. In the future, Mercedes-Benz vans will therefore be equipped with Lane Keeping Assist to ensure that drivers receive timely warning of unintended lane changes.
The system features a range of sophisticated technology, including a mounted camera behind the windshield that films the lane up ahead. The camera is connected to an electronic control unit that continuously measures the recorded data in order to identify the lane and the associated markings by analyzing the differences in contrast. If the van is about to cross the lane markings without the use of a turn indicator, the control unit will consider this to be an unintended lane departure and sound an alarm to notify the driver.
Lane Keeping Assist is active at speeds of 60 km/h or more and reacts not only to white lane markings but also to the yellow markings used at construction sites. Drivers can switch the assistance system off when it suits them — for example when driving along narrow and winding country roads. Lane Keeping Assist also helps drivers stay on course in tight areas such as those found at highway construction sites.
Highbeam Assist: Optimal illumination of the road
Optimal vision is a key precondition for safe driving. Darkness poses a particular challenge for drivers, and that's why every Mercedes-Benz van is equipped with large, powerful headlights. In addition, all of the models are optionally available with especially bright bi-xenon headlights.
The new Highbeam Assist system is a first for the van sector. The system switches the highbeams on and off in accordance with the present situation to ensure that the road is optimally illuminated at all times. This not only enables drivers to see curves, pedestrians, and danger zones earlier and more clearly, but also prevents oncoming traffic and drivers up ahead from being blinded.
The system uses a camera mounted to the inside of the windshield. The camera scans the traffic in front of the vehicle. If it detects oncoming traffic or two-track vehicles up ahead, the system automatically switches the headlights from highbeam to lowbeam. Highbeam Assist can distinguish moving objects from stationary ones and leaves the highbeams turned on when the van enters a curve. The safety system switches the headlights back to highbeam once the road is no longer occupied. The camera also registers if the street lights are switched on, in which case it automatically deactivates the highbeams — for example when driving through towns or villages.
Highbeam Assist operates at speeds of 60 km/h or more. The system will be offered for halogen as well as bi-xenon headlights.
Reversing camera: Helps drivers maneuver in tight areas
Among the most frequent van accidents are those caused while maneuvering at low speeds. To help drivers park and maneuver in tight areas, therefore, vans can be equipped with an optional reversing camera. In vans with closed vehicle bodies, the camera is mounted above the rear doors. The image is transmitted to the 5.8-inch (14.7 cm) TFT color monitor of the factory-installed radio.
The camera has a sturdy plastic housing. The camera’s 150-degree viewing angle allows drivers to see the entire area behind the vehicle on the monitor. To assist orientation, the system also displays the horizon and static guide markings.
Mercedes-Benz Vans: Safety as a standard feature
Safety is a standard feature in every Mercedes-Benz vehicle. In the case of the Sprinter, this means that the van has a safe and predictable chassis, a precise steering system, and extremely effective and firm disk brakes on all of its wheels. Adaptive brake lights warn the drivers of pursuing vehicles whenever the van makes an emergency braking maneuver. A lamp burnout control system prevents motorists from driving with insufficient lighting, and a seat belt warning device reminds drivers to buckle up before they depart.
The van is fitted with the latest generation of ADAPTIVE ESP as standard. With its diverse range of capabilities, this system is already doing much to improve safety. The dynamic handling system now encompasses the following features:
- Anti-lock braking system (ABS)
- Acceleration skid control (ASR)
- Electronic brake force distribution (EBV)
- Hydraulic brake assistant (BAS)
- Load Adaptive Control (LAC)
- Roll Over Mitigation and Roll Movement Intervention (ROM/RMI)
- Enhanced Understeering Control (EUC)
- Automatic Brake Disc Wiping for driving in rainy weather
- Electronic Brake Prefill for anticipatory brake preparation in critical driving situations
If the buyer of a Sprinter wishes to have a trailer coupling system or the corresponding mounts, the van also features Trailer Stability Assist (TSA) as standard.
If an accident cannot be prevented despite the Sprinter’s high level of active safety, the van’s occupants benefit from the vehicle’s flexible and energy-absorbing body structure. The driver is safely restrained by height-adjustable three-point safety belts with seat-belt tensioners and belt force limiters as well as by two-way headrests and front airbags.
Optional equipment for customized safety
In addition to having a comprehensive range of standard features, buyers can select additional safety options to adapt the Sprinter to specific application profiles. For example, vision can be further improved by bi-xenon headlights equipped with a static Add-Light system and a cornering light function, as well as by fog lights, a headlight cleaning system, and a heatable windshield.
The rear-mounted camera, reversing warning feature, and PARKTRONIC system help drivers maneuver the vehicle, while the Start-off Assist system (standard equipment in Sprinters fitted with automatic transmission) provides support when starting up hills. The rain sensor with Headlamp Assist automatically turns the corresponding systems on or off. Passive safety is further enhanced by the front passenger airbag (standard equipment in the crew bus), window bags, and thorax bags, while the tire pressure monitoring system ensures that the tires always have the right pressure in vans with single tires.
Mercedes-Benz doesn’t restrict safety-related issues to the driver, as all of its panel vans are standard-fitted with partition walls that completely seal off the cargo area. The latter features numerous strong metal rings for securing the cargo. If desired, this feature can be supplemented with rails in the floor, at chest height, and underneath the roof.
Focusing on the driver’s personal condition as a safety factor
Just as important as the safety technology, is the safety provided by the driver’s personal condition. Drivers can handle dangerous situations more effectively or even avoid them altogether if they feel well and are rested and relaxed. That’s why Mercedes-Benz’s development activities particularly focus on the area behind the steering wheel. Every Mercedes-Benz van has a spacious cab equipped with comfortable, height-adjustable seats that provide drivers with good lateral support. The seat is ideally positioned in relation to the steering wheel, the pedals, and the dashboard.
The instruments are clearly arranged in every Mercedes-Benz, and the switches, buttons, and knobs are easy to reach. No matter how insignificant it may appear, every detail is of crucial importance in critical situations. For example, every Mercedes-Benz vehicle has the illuminated switch for the hazard lights located on top of the center console, where it is clearly visible.
The left and right exterior mirrors have separate, spherically shaped wide-angle lenses or appropriately segregated fields of vision. The mirror casings have been aerodynamically optimized to protect them from griming.
In combination with effective heating and ventilation systems, the vehicles’ high level of ride comfort and low level of background noise make even long trips pleasant. Everyday items can be stowed in numerous cleverly designed compartments. A precise steering system and a comparatively small turning circle also help to ensure maximum safety and relaxed driving.
Research results: Vans less likely than cars to be involved in accidents
Vans and their drivers are often subject to public pressure concerning safety. However, the fact is that vans do not play a conspicuous role in accident statistics. A joint research report recently published by Germany’s Federal Highway Research Institute (BASt), Dekra, the German Insurers Accident Research Organization (UDV), and the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA) showed that when it comes to accidents, vans and cars have similar records.
The report demonstrates that the number of accidents depends on the total number of vehicles and the total distance traveled. In Germany, for example, the number of vans registered as trucks rose from around one million to about two million within 20 years. In addition, vans weighing between 2.8 and 3.5 tons GVW travel approximately 21,000 km each year on average, almost 80 percent more than cars (11,900 km). The research report’s conclusions are probably surprising for some people, as they show that vans are actually less frequently involved in accidents than cars if the number of vehicles and the distances traveled are taken into account.
Proof that assistance systems reduce the number of accidents
The accident statistics associated with individual vehicle series clearly demonstrate the positive effect of assistance systems. This is particularly evident with regard to the gradual introduction of the Electronic Stability Program (ESP) in the first generation of the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter around ten years ago. Lane-departure accidents dropped dramatically by 39 percent after the system was first installed in this class of vehicles.
The launch of the second Sprinter generation in 2006 resulted in further big advances such as the introduction of ADAPTIVE ESP, which can detect loads and the vehicle’s center of gravity. As a result, the number of lane-departure accidents declined further by 28 percent. Taken together, these steps have cut in half the number of accidents due to this cause within a few years. After being refined further in recent years, the ESP feature is now being expanded with the new Crosswind Assist system. The resulting third generation of ESP will produce additional benefits.
The same applies to the other assistance systems. For example, researchers at Daimler have conducted extensive tests in which they determined that warning systems reduce the driver’s response time by a vital 0.2 seconds. In addition, they greatly boost the intensity of the driver’s reaction. In Mercedes-Benz vans, new systems such as the proximity warning assistant, Lane Keeping Assist, and Blind Spot Assist will therefore help to prevent accidents or at least reduce their severity in many cases.
Mercedes-Benz: A constant pioneer in the development of safety technology
The future assistance systems will continue a strong tradition at Mercedes-Benz, which has always considered safety to be one of its core values. The brand follows the highest possible standards, and its developers are driven by their vision of achieving accident-free driving. That is why Mercedes-Benz vans continuously mark the state-of-the-art in terms of safety technology in their respective segments.
The Sprinter: Exemplary safety from the start, the first with ABS
An outstanding example of this is the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, which has always combined great performance with exemplary safety. At its premiere in the spring of 1995, the first generation of the Sprinter takes the industry by surprise with its comprehensive range of safety features. It is an unparalleled combination at the time, including disk brakes on all the wheels, the ABS four-channel anti-lock braking system, the ABD automatic differential brake, a seat belt buckle, and a system for adjusting the belt height in the cab. A driver airbag is also available as an optional feature. The new Sprinter clearly sets new standards.
Model update in 2000: new ABS, speed limiter
As part of a comprehensive model update, Mercedes-Benz boosts safety further in 2000. It makes the driver airbag standard and offers a front passenger airbag as an option. On a bench seat for two people, the airbag also protects the passenger sitting next to the driver. A three-point seat belt is now offered for this middle passenger as well.
The enhanced ABS delivers a better performance, and the automatic differential brake is upgraded, becoming the acceleration skid control system. For the Sprinter, performance does not mean high speeds, so Mercedes-Benz voluntarily limits the van’s top speed to 160 km/h. This is still the case in 2013.
Credits: Daimler AG
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