More Stars Means Safer Cars

Automobile safety has improved exponentially in the last 30 years, and it’s getting even better, with the big three German manufacturers leading the way. Check out:
A good example of progress in this area is the Mercedes Pre-Safe system. Introduced in 2003, it ranks with earlier bell weather innovations such as seat belts, ABS (automatic braking systems) and airbags, and it takes a giant step beyond. It not only minimizes damage and protects passengers, but through sophisticated sensors and logic controllers can actually prevent crashes. Sensors mounted both inside and outside the car continuously communicate with the vehicle and can provide instant detection of an impending crash. We can now drive cars with reflexes far faster than our own, with programmed solutions that duplicate or even exceed the control and finesse displayed by the finest professional drivers in the world. Specifically, Pre-Safe turns a Mercedes into a car with reflexes, with reactions appropriate for the situation.

First, Mercedes engineers undertook exhaustive analysis of the multiple causes of car accidents, and found one recurring problem. Car crashes were most frequently initiated by inattention and/or distractions leading to out of control skidding, rollovers and collisions. The answer was to develop a system that recognized and responded to this danger.

In a typical scenario, sensors mounted outside the car detect an accident risk, calculate the distance towards the approaching obstacle, and automatically sends visual and audio warnings to the driver. If the driver does not respond immediately, Pre-Safe initiates avoidance procedures, primarily breaking, and automatically tightens seatbelts and returns reclined seats to the ideal pre-crash vertical position to provide extra-safety in case of frontal impacts.

But that’s not all. If the driver loses control of the car and the system detects an incipient skid, it closes the sunroof and electric windows. Over steer and under steer are both mitigated by sensors in an electronic stability program that calculates lateral acceleration, steering angle, and yaw. In addition, the ABS system kicks in to optimize traction, and airbags are staged for deployment.

If the driver reacts in time to avoid the accident, Pre-Safe automatically relaxes the seatbelts.

More sophistication has been rolled into the system. Upgraded versions have been enhanced to provide even better reactions in case of accidents. Cars no longer are necessarily braked to a halt. Up to 0.4 G’s braking force is applied in the event of danger, but the maximum braking effort is eased if the danger abates.

To foster improvements, Pre-Safe was developed as an open-source system, and allows Mercedes to expand functionality and add new safety features without having to start from scratch each time. It can be modified to recognize new features such as safer bumpers, crumple zones, as well as employ advanced detection technologies incorporating radar, infrared or even ultrasound to monitor and track nearby vehicles and obstacles.

Mercedes has led the way in automotive safety. An earlier innovation was the automatic roll bar installed on the SL roadster, that adjusted its position in 0.3 seconds if the system detected the risk of an accident. An even more sophisticated feature introduced in 2010 and installed in the E-Class, was the capability to detect driver fatigue. It monitored attentiveness by measuring 70 operating parameters.

Other manufacturers are scrambling to keep up, with Audi , BMW and other luxury car makers eager to compete for the discerning car buyer. Today, automotive enthusiasts have unparalleled choices from a rich, robust, exciting, and much safer menu.

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