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2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class to Showcase Incredible New Technologies

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 7/7/2015 Scott Burgess

Driving will get a whole lot easier when the 2017 E-Class arrives next summer.

The sedan, slated to debut at the 2016 Detroit auto show, comes with more sensors, cameras, and radar units that will enable drivers to park their car without being in it, talk to other cars, see the night as if it were day, read traffic signs, and transform a smartphone into a key. The car won't be completely autonomous, meaning a person is going to have to sit in the driver's seat, but this car demonstrates how much safer the world could become.

"The potential of the new E-Class goes beyond what any other car will offer," says Michael Hafner, director of driver assistant systems and active safety at Mercedes.Indeed, the features Mercedes showed off Tuesday at its Pre-Safe Technology briefing outside of Stuttgart, Germany, were incredible. New safety features move occupants in the car away from an impact zone, and the vehicle even has a device that may save someone's hearing during an accident.

All of these features will debut on the next E-Class (shown here in prototype form ), though Mercedes promises to move the technology quickly through its lineup in much the same way that all the S-Class features that arrived two years ago have already proliferated through Mercedes’ other vehicles.

2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class to Showcase Incredible New Technologies

The expanded Intelligent Drive already brings drivers closer to autonomy. A Mercedes with adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist will adjust a car's speed, keeping the vehicle between the lines as it flies down the highway. The system is so good that there are times when the car has to remind the driver to put his or her hands back on the wheel.

The car can automatically adjust to the highway's speed limit using either its cameras to read road signs or the navigation system to mark the speed limit based on the vehicle's location. Additionally, Mercedes’ Active Brake Assist uses the car's radar system to detect other vehicles and judge whether they are slowing down or speeding up and then warn the driver of a pending collision or initiate the brakes. The car's processor, which is continuously evaluating situations, can determine if the driver needs to take evasive maneuvers and, if an accident is imminent, prepare the driver for impact. Humans take seconds to make a decision but the car can do it milliseconds, which is the difference between a close call and a call to your insurance agent.

Smartphones

The ubiquitous smartphone will certainly play a role in future cars, and for the new E-Class, it can serve as a key. Mercedes uses near field communication technology to identify the owner's phone and connect it to the car. It can then act as the key. The real beauty here, though, is that the phone can become the key to more than one car.

Additionally, using another app, drivers can remotely park their E-Class. Just connect to the car, tell it what to do, and watch the car do it. The driver does need to stand within 5 meters of the car to operate it, but the car will move in and out of a tight spot safely. It's an effective approach to a common problem and will ensure no more door dings or scratches.

Communicating cars

If you don't want to talk to your car with your smartphone, just let your car do the talking with its car-to-X communications. A slightly different take on car-to-car communication, Mercedes has created a cloud of information that other cars can grab.

If a car is broken down around a bend, that car can send out a signal that will warn other approaching drivers via the Internet. The same can be done with dangerous patches, such as black ice, on the road. The system uses Mercedes’ cellphone system for transmitting data into the cloud, and then the data is aggregated and forwarded to other vehicles in the vicinity.

"People have been talking about car-to-car technology for two decades," says Christoph von Hugo, an active safety engineer for Mercedes. "We decided not to wait another two decades before using it."

Indeed, some of the cloud information is already available. Road construction trucks in Germany emit a signal that announces their location. Cars can receive that info and issue a warning to oncoming vehicles of a potential hazard. Weather and traffic data is also already being broadcast, with few vehicles using it.

Better sight

New headlamps, known as Multibeam, will feature 84 LEDs that will be individually activated to light up the night. The digitally controlled beams will illuminate what needs to be seen and work around things that don't. The system uses the camera mounted on the windshield to determine what to light up, adjusting to the car's surroundings at the rate of 100 times per second, unlike some cornering lights that move the actual lights as the car moves through a corner.

Pre-Safe ingenuity

Mercedes has long touted its Pre-Safe strategy, creating systems that prepare a driver for a pending accident if that accident cannot be avoided. Some of the new additions to Pre-Safe are ingenious. Pre-Safe Sound is one of those examples. The system creates a "short interference signal" — a loud noise — right before an accident to trigger a person's stapedius reflex. That pop makes a muscle in a person's ear contract and changes the link between the eardrum and the inner ear. In effect, it prepares a person's hearing for a loud noise by muting their ability to hear high sound pressures. Incredible.

Mercedes also adds Pre-Safe Impulse Side Function that uses airbags on the side of the seat to push a person toward the center of the vehicle during a side impact. By increasing the distance between the occupant and the door, the chances of survival during the accident increase. Additionally, the E-Class will debut Mercedes’ new beltbag. The device combines a seat belt with an airbag to inflate the seat belt during a severe frontal crash. If inflated, the belt becomes several times wider and better distributes energy along a person's body.

All told there are five cameras, 12 ultrasonic sensors, and five radars mounted on the new E-Class. A high-speed processor takes in all of that information, thousands of data points inside the car, and info being received from other vehicles to continuously evaluate the vehicle and its environment. Ultimately, the driver is still responsible for the car's actions, but Mercedes is offering a lot of help.

And should a driver still get in an accident, another host of features inside the E-Class will work just as hard to keep the driver safe. It won't eliminate every accident or prevent every injury, but Mercedes again appears to be lowering the odds of the something bad happening. That can certainly make things a little easier for everyone on the road.

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