Episode 5: Digital safety.
Today’s cars are almost inconceivable without electronics. They are at the ready visibly and invisibly and perform important jobs. Among the most important components are assistance systems that support the driver and make driving safer. The history of electronics in the automobile began in the 1960s and the first assistance system was ABS.Because in this case, the vehicle can no longer be steered: while it will slow down, it will also just keep sliding straight ahead.
Because in this case, the vehicle can no longer be steered: while it will slow down, it will also just keep sliding straight ahead. Braking and steering at the same time – that would represent a major step towards enhanced safety.
Only rolling wheels are able to transmit steering forces. The solution therefore lay in an automatic variant of intermittent braking that used to be taught in driving school: alternating between braking and steering, in as rapid a succession as possible. That is precisely what this technology was supposed to deliver – in fact better and more reliable than a human could. A real active safety system.
First attempts were made in aviation as early as in the 1920s. They were supposed to ensure that an aircraft stays on track after landing. The systems used hydraulic and mechanical components. Experiments with such systems were also conducted in cars, but their response was too imprecise or too sluggish.
The electronic anti-lock braking system.
At Mercedes-Benz, the steps were taken under the direction of Chief Development Officer Hans Scherenberg, who himself had filed a first patent application for a “system for preventing the locking of vehicle wheels during braking” as early as 1953. In the 1960s, the time was ripe for the dawn of a new technology. The researchers and developers recognised the possibilities that electronics offered for this problem as well. The driver pushes the brake pedal – and the technology ensures controlled intermittent braking. With great determination, Mercedes-Benz aimed to offer the customers of the brand the next major safety upgrade with an anti-lock braking system (ABS). The development was advanced with great effort, a development that followed the tradition of pioneering safety innovations such as the crumple zones, for example.
The goal was seemingly reached in 1970.
Mercedes-Benz presented the first functioning electronically controlled ABS to the world in Untertürkheim. It was still based on analogue electronics. The applause was enthusiastic, the response extremely positive.
But then there was the opportunity to make the system even better. Digital electronics had arrived on the scene in the meantime. Integrated circuits made better control units with even shorter response times and overall more reliable functioning possible. Mercedes-Benz decided to make the switch in order to offer maximum safety. The time finally arrived in 1978: the world’s first reliably operating ABS based on digital electronics made its debut in the S-Class. The perseverance to get from the initial idea to the finished product paid off. A dream came true.
Long since an industry standard.
The anti-lock braking system changed the industry. Passenger cars, buses, commercial vehicles: ABS is available for all of them – luckily. Because ABS does its job better than a human being in many standard situations. The human steps on the brake pedal – and the system controls the brakes in an ideal manner. On dry or slippery roads and even if the road is just slippery on one side. The car stays reliably on the steered track – it follows the course of the road or rolls around an obstacle.
Apart from the leap in safety, the anti-lock braking system entails a major leap of faith in the car. In moments of great stress in a demanding traffic situation, the human being is unburdened and remains capable of acting. The driver is still able to steer.
An extensive family of assistance systems.
As a result, Mercedes-Benz developed an extensive family of assistance systems. They all use the sensor signals of the ABS and deliver many more important advantages. For example, Acceleration Skid Control (ASR) or 4MATIC all-wheel drive. All of them are important. The Electronic Stability Program ESP® presented in 1995 brought another huge leap forward. It effectively prevents the vehicle from skidding. And again the burden on the human being is significantly reduced in tricky moments. ESP® is also an industry standard today.
Statistics prove: the aforementioned and other assistance systems prevent accidents, mitigate the consequences of accidents, save lives. They would not be conceivable without sensors and digital electronics.
Interlinked systems for added safety.
And the development keeps going: examples of other systems from Mercedes-Benz are the proximity control system DISTRONIC PLUS, the PRE-SAFE® Brake or Active Brake Assist with Cross-Traffic Assist. They work in close cooperation with solutions such as PRE-SAFE®, which already spring into action before an accident and preventively reduce the consequences for the passengers.
A long road full of safety innovations.
Today’s vehicles have an extensive safety array. Some of them are already networked with each other in addition and report safety-relevant information to each other. An obstacle behind the bend? A short stretch of slippery road in the middle of the forest? A malfunctioning traffic light? The car learns about it early and is able to warn or react independently. Once again, the development of technology brings important advances. And Mercedes-Benz is another step closer to one of the major goals of the brand: absolutely accident-free driving.