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.