Safe and sounds
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Mercedes-Benz is looking to stay at the top of the safety pile by adding assistance systems into its van range, dovetailing with the launch of a new Sprinter later this year. John Challen looks at what to expect.
Armed with a refreshed heavy-duty range, Mercedes has turned its R&D attentions to LCV offerings, and is looking to improve in three key areas, according to Volker Mornhinweg, the firm’s head of vans. “Our development guys are focused on three qualities,” he says. “Efficiency… quality… and safety.”
With regard to safety, Merc will introduce five new technologies into its van range, coming with the next-generation Sprinter that is due to be launched later this year.
“We have a vision of accident-free driving,” says Dr Sascha Paasche, head of product engineering, Mercedes- Benz vans. Helping achieve this goal will be five key Assist systems – that improve crosswind, collision prevention, blind spot, lane keeping and highbeam safety – to be offered on all models in the future.
The third generation of Mercedes’ ESP for vans will incorporate the first use in the sector of Crosswind Assist. Designed to minimise the impact strong winds can have on a van’s position on the road, it is automatically activated from 49.7mph (80km/h). The system is based on sensors that measure the yaw rate and lateral acceleration, thereby determining crosswind forces. Identifying the specific wheels affected, the automated unit applies the brakes onto the relevant wheels, causing the vehicle to steer and correct itself, therefore avoiding being on the wrong side of the road or drifting across lanes. Mercedes says that the aim is for vehicles to veer no further than 50cm sideways in strong gusts. Vehicle speed, cargo load and location in the van, and driver steering inputs are all taken into consideration when calculating the level of intervention.
Mercedes has conducted analysis that has concluded that adopting a radar-based monitoring system could prevent “a significant proportion of rear-end collisions, or at least substantially reduce the severity of the accidents”. As a result, Collision Prevention Assist makes its debut in the van sector. Mercedes stresses that while it won’t prevent all minor low-speed accidents in cities, it will reduce the number of severe impacts from behind. Sensors on the bumper continuously measure the distance to any vehicle travelling ahead, as well as the relative speeds of each vehicle. When a possible impact is predicted, a message is sent from these sensors, and an audible warning sound – the noise intensifying if the distance is further reduced – intimates a very high risk of impact.
Short of making the wing mirrors of its vans any larger, Blind Spot Assist technology was viewed by Mercedes as the best way to help improve a driver’s awareness of other road users. At speeds above 18.6mph (30km/h) short-range sensors located at the side of the vehicle can detect a car or motorcycle in the driver’s blind spot, and a red warning light appears in the wing mirror on the relevant side, alerting the driver to the danger. Should they try and change lane when there is a vehicle in the way, an alarm is sounded as a warning.
Lane Keeping Assist comprises a camera filming the lane ahead and an ECU measuring data. Again, a warning sound occurs, this time if the van is about to leave the lane and the indicators are not employed. The system can identify white and yellow road markings and works at speeds above 37.3mph (60km/h). There is the option of turning the system off to prevent it being activated constantly – for example, when driving down narrow country lanes.
Driving at night will hopefully be made safer with Highbeam Assist. The system automatically switches high beams on and off depending on whether there is traffic ahead. It is hoped drivers will have a better view of corners, pedestrians and potential dangers ahead without oncoming drivers being blinded by the headlights. It works at 37.3mph (60km/h) or above, and uses a camera mounted to the inside of the windscreen, scanning the road and traffic ahead.
Mercedes has confirmed Crosswind Assist will debut as a standard feature on the new Sprinter. It is expected the remaining safety tech will be cost options, but according to a spokesman it is too early to talk about prices.