As the technology front moves inexorably toward the car that drives itself, like it or not—and I’m not sure—it’s good to know that some of the most forward-looking car companies are rolling out more and more technology to make us really safer in the car, while still letting us (mostly) be the overall brain in control. And Mercedes-Benz is determined to keep going in the effort to make its cars all-knowing and all-protecting. The German automaker took an S500 Intelligent Drive research car out on the road in August, following the same route Bertha Benz took on the world's first road trip 125 years ago. The intent was "to demonstrate the feasibility of autonomous driving on both interurban and urban routes." It worked, and Mercedes hastened to note that the technology it used was very similar to what you can buy on current production models.
For 2014, in fact, the automaker has a suite of more than thirty active and passive safety technologies on tap, which it’s calling Intelligent Drive. Basically, it involves sensors and cameras to maintain a 360-degree continuous view of the road around you. It can keep you alert, in your lane, without smashing into anyone or having them smash into you.
The Mercedes-Benz Driver Assistance package is a $2,800 option now available for the 2014 E-Class lineup (right) and for the 2014 S-Class, rolling out in October. This is a package of five main safety technologies. Central to its diabolical plan to keep you from crashing: a set of stereoscopic cameras that see 1,600 feet in front of the car at all times, “sensing” traffic patterns. There’s also short, medium, and long-range radar going on. It reads the road's profile seventeen times per second, gauging whether there’s something to react to. And there almost always will be. For example:
• Bends in the road (Distronic Plus with Steering Assist, a radar-based cruise control system that “intervenes” with steering to maintain just the amount of torque you need on straight roads or bends);
• Somebody crashing into you from behind (Pre-Safe Plus, rear-facing radar that prepares the vehicle for a “possible secondary incident into an active intersection." Translation: they smash into you, and then you smash into someone else);
• You crashing into someone else from behind—or hitting a pedestrian (Pre-Safe Brake, automatically putting on your brakes at up to 31 mph, to supplement or take the place of your own braking efforts);
• Intersection imbroglios (BAS Plus with Cross Traffic Assist, using those stereoscopic cameras and rear-facing radar to detect something bad about to happen in an intersection you’re entering and adding “appropriate brake assistance” in case you don’t brake enough);
• Straying outside your lane (Active Lane Keeping Assist that signals you with a vibrating steering wheel);
• Missing a car coming up in your blind spot (Active Blind Spot Protection that does “one-sided braking” when needed).
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz E-Class lineup starts at $53,750, including a $925 destination charge, for the E350 sedan. The 2014 S-Class starts at $93,825, including destination, for the S550. (The top-end 2014 S63 AMG 4Matic is pictured here; it comes out in November, priced at $140,425, including destination.) These aren't prices to allow you to buy these cars for your teenager or college student, but it's a safe bet that intelligent safety systems will continue to trickle down and become more affordable.
And Mercedes-Benz isn't stopping there with the advanced technology: There's also Night View Assist Plus, Attention Assist (the nagging cup of coffee that really does know when you’re too tired and need a break), and even Traffic Sign Assist with a wrong-way warning function. This technology is either begging for a parody from The Onion or "Saturday Night Live," or it deserves a Nobel Prize. Or maybe both.
Read more on safety technology:Lexus Active Safety January 30, 2013
Accident Avoidance Mode: Tech from Various Automakers November 14, 2012
Drowsiness Detection Systems October 8, 2012