Up to the late 1970s, emergency braking was one of the most dangerous situations one could encounter in road traffic. Drivers flooring the brake pedal in an emergency only rarely remembered their driving instructor's injunction to use repeated braking impulses to avoid losing the ability to steer the vehicle. “At the time, ABS was an immensely important invention,” says an enthusiastic Frank-Werner Mohn, formerly responsible for driver assistance systems at Mercedes-Benz, “it's unbelievable what the system made possible for the first time. Full emergency braking became possible, you could avoid the obstacle and the braking distance was shorter.”
Frank-Werner Mohn, formerly responsible for driver assistance systems at Mercedes-Benz, is still enthusiastic about the advances made in the 1970s and 1980s.
ABS makes the difference. The golden S-Class remains steerable despite emergency braking. Unlike the white S-Class without ABS behind it.
Frank-Werner Mohn has just exited from a golden Mercedes-Benz 450 SEL 6.9 bearing large ABS lettering on its flanks. From 1978, the luxury saloon bearing the Mercedes star was the first series production vehicle in the world available with an anti-lock braking system, or ABS for short. Next to it, at the end of a long, black skid mark, there is a white Mercedes-Benz S-Class produced in the same year, a 280 SE not yet equipped with ABS. During the emergency braking manoeuvre just carried out, the W116 has slid straight through the array of specially positioned foam blocks. With the front wheels locked, there was no chance of safe avoiding action. This only became possible with the anti-lock braking system, which Mercedes-Benz had developed together with Bosch at the time.
40 years of driver assistance systems at Mercedes-Benz.
After around ten years of hard development work, the breakthrough achieved in 1978 with the introduction of the anti-lock braking system followed a long tradition at Mercedes-Benz. The remit of the pre-development and development departments was not only to make the cars of tomorrow more comfortable, faster or more economical, as safety had been a particularly important aspect for Mercedes-Benz since the 1950s.
The beginnings in this field were not least thanks to the creative spirit of Béla Barényi, head of Mercedes-Benz pre-development from 1955 to 1974, in the form of safety body with crumple zones, safety steering columns or door locks that could still be opened following an impact. Many of these inventions have been filed for a patent, e.g. the safety body or the wedge-door lock with safety notches.
No reaction time needed. Brake Assist recognises a critical situation and initiates emergency braking.
Although ABS wasn’t the first assistance system introduced into car production, it was the first digital safety system. In 1996, the introduction of Brake Assist BAS brought another major improvement in safety. When the car's control units registered that the driver's foot abruptly left the accelerator and rapidly depressed the brake pedal, a critical situation was anticipated and the maximum brake pressure was built up automatically to maximise deceleration.
In the mid-1980s, what began with the intelligent deceleration of individual wheels during emergency braking, was systematically developed further. However, the purpose of the next assistance systems ASD and ASR was not to support the driver during emergency braking, but rather when driving. The Automatic Locking Differential (ASD) prevents differential movement of the other wheel by a louver lock when the electronics detects that one of the drive wheels is losing grip. The acceleration skid control (ASR) went even further: Especially on slippery surfaces or on icy or snowy mountain gradients, ASR was a major step towards greater handling safety. If a wheel started to spin on a slippery surface, it was individually braked. In 1985, Mercedes-Benz introduced the automatically engaging all-wheel drive system 4MATIC in the Saloon and Estate models of the 124 series, in whose rear axle an automatic locking differential was installed.
ASD and ASR ensured more safety, especially when moving off on slippery surfaces.
However, the greatest leap forward took place in 1995, when Mercedes-Benz first introduced the Electronic Stability Programme ESP as a joint development with its supplier Bosch in the eight- and twelve-cylinder models of the S-Class, the SL and the E-Class. ESP supports the driver in critical handling situations, specifically brakes one or more wheels and even adjusts the engine torque when necessary. When the first generation of the Mercedes-Benz A-Class capsized during the so-called “Elk test” in 1997, this life-saving safety system was rolled out. In the fall of 1999, ESP was adopted as standard equipment to the entire range of car models of the brand.
Dr. Anton van Zanten developed the system at Bosch in the 1980s, and configured it for cars bearing the Mercedes star together with ABS-founder Heinz Leiber, who was responsible for electrics and electronics at Daimler during 1985 to 1996. “The system was initially called FDR by Bosch,” van Zanten recalls, “and the name Electronic Stability Programme came from Mercedes-Benz. We first introduced it in the S-Class and the SL, later also in all other model series. The development work took around ten years, and at first none of the car manufacturers wanted it, until Mercedes-Benz eventually went for it. But throughout that time I was convinced that ESP would make car driving safer, and also ensure stable handling at the physical limits.”
Dr. Anton van Zanten developed the skid prevention system ESP at Bosch, and brought it with Mercedes-Benz engineer Frank-Werner Mohn in series production.
No other car manufacturer can match the achievements of Mercedes-Benz with its numerous innovations when it comes to car safety.
Since the 1990s, there has been an enormous surge in developments in the field of driver assistance systems. And many of the most important innovations of the last 25 years have come from Mercedes-Benz. Particularly innovative among these are systems such as proximity cruise control DISTRONIC / DISTRONIC PLUS and the safety systems PRE-SAFE, ATTENTION ASSIST, Night View Assist, Blind Spot Assist and Lane Keeping Assist. Today, all of these systems are closely interlinked and combined under one common concept: with Mercedes-Benz Intelligent Drive, the vision of accident-free driving gets closer every day.