"Around €15 million is invested every day in turning ideas into projects and products," stated Dr Weber at a DaimlerChrysler Research information event before presenting the initial test results from the F 500 Mind, a veritable mobile research lab. He said it was not just the firm that stood to profit from the wealth of ideas generated by its scientists and engineers, but also Germany as a whole in its role as an industrial location.
Featuring a hybrid drive unit, an infrared nightview system, a multivision display and a host of other ultra-sophisticated technologies, the research vehicle offers a look ahead to the automotive technology of tomorrow. "Each of these innovations represents the future of motoring in the making. The F 500 Mind is no fantasy show car, it is host to research projects with realistic prospects of entering series production," said Dr Weber.
Following the unveiling of the F 500 Mind at the Tokyo Motor Show in October last year, DaimlerChrysler research engineers staged a variety of test runs with the vehicle with the aim of investigating the day-to-day practicability and acceptability of the technical innovations. Their attentions were focused on the research car's hybrid drive system, consisting of a V8 diesel engine paired with an electric motor which produce a combined output of 234 kW and a total peak torque of 860 Newton metres. These figures make it the most powerful hybrid drive to be fitted in a rear-wheel-drive passenger car at the present time.
Hybrid drive returns fuel savings of as much as 20 percent in NEDC cycle
Practical research revealed both the benefits and drawbacks of the alternative drive technology. One of the plus points is the electronic load share apportionment between engine and electric motor: when driving in slow-moving stop-go traffic, pulling away or parking, the diesel engine is shut off and the F 500 Mind switches to purely electric drive. This allows fuel consumption to be cut by some 20 percent in the NEDC cycle. Just the ability to switch off the diesel engine when stopped at traffic lights and pull away again using the power from the electric motor represents a fuel saving of around ten percent. Automatic energy recovery during braking also comes into the equation, accounting for a further five to seven percent reduction.
However, researchers at DaimlerChrysler detected a discrepancy between theory and practice, as the fuel consumption figures for the NEDC test cycle and for testing under practical operating conditions did not tally. "The actual fuel consumption of the hybrid drive on longer interurban or motorway journeys is actually higher than with the standard Mercedes diesel model," reported Professor Herbert Kohler who heads up the vehicle body and drive research unit.
Road trials conducted by DaimlerChrysler have indicated that the hybrid drive's primary area of use will be for inner-city driving where the benefits offered by engine shut-off at traffic lights and energy recovery during frequent braking can be harnessed to the full.
Experts at DaimlerChrysler's research division will shortly be examining the assets of the hybrid system vis-ŕ-vis a comparable diesel engine more closely with a view to defining the future application scenario for this drive alternative. "We are looking to fine tune the hybrid drive and deploy it in such a way that its benefits outweigh the tremendous technical effort involved. As a result of the practical tests that have been held so far, we now know that the diesel engine holds a greater overall potential for reducing fuel consumption and levels of CO2 emissions," Professor Herbert Kohler summed up.
The Stuttgart-based automotive firm is working towards the drive system of the future based on a five-stage approach. This approach is founded on systematic improvement of the conventional petrol and diesel engines, whilst also incorporating the use of new, environmentally compatible fuels and also devoting attention to the development of alternative drive concepts, such as hybrid technology and the fuel cell, which hold genuine potential for series production. DaimlerChrysler perceives the hybrid drive as a stepping-stone technology to bridge the gap between the internal combustion engine and the zero-emission, quiet-running fuel cell.
Highly promising practical research into new forms of driver assist systems
Another focal topic being researched with the assistance of the F 500 Mind is the development of innovative new assist systems for making the motorist's task an easier one. These include a nightview system which works with infrared laser light. At night or when visibility is poor, this system is capable of picking out parked cars or any other obstacles far earlier than is possible with conventional headlamps, heightening standards of safety still further.
"For us, this technology represents a further key contribution to reducing the risk of accidents when driving at night or in poor visibility, which is still high," commented Dr Thomas Weber. Using the F 500 Mind mobile research lab, scientists hope to test people’s willingness to use this system, and to mould it to the requirements of motorists. Such driver assist systems bring the experts at DaimlerChrysler ever closer to that ultimate goal, the vision of "accident-free driving".
Mercedes-Benz has been a leader in the development of driver assist systems for many years and intends to further reinforce its role of pioneer with innovations such as those being tested out with the F 500 Mind. The researchers want to use cutting-edge technology to reduce the motorist's workload effectively. This will allow drivers to concentrate more clearly on what is going on around them and keep them fit and alert so that they can safely handle any critical situations with confidence. This exemplary interaction between human and machine forms a hallmark characteristic of all Mercedes models, namely driver-fitness safety. No other car maker devotes as much attention to this aspect of automotive development as Mercedes-Benz. Mercedes engineers and DaimlerChrysler researchers have been conducting investigations into the mental and physical strain of driving for more than two decades now; further investigations, which will test the effectiveness of new driver assist systems, are planned with the F 500 Mind.
Groundbreaking concept for simple, intuitive vehicle control
A further aspect of interaction between human and machine is the development of new control and display concepts for the car of the future. A system is being researched in the F 500 Mind which combines speedometer, rev counter, navigation display and various other instruments into a single multivision display. The driver is able to operate and read each of the three display areas individually so that only the information actually required is displayed at any time. A push of a button on the steering wheel is all that is needed to change between the displays. Any other adjustments can be made using a specially developed touchpad, which is situated in an ergonomic position in front of the centre armrest. Tapping the touchpad with the finger directly selects the control panels on the display, offering drivers simple, fingertip control of functions such as the navigation system, car radio, car phone or air conditioning. The advantage of this technology is the direct correspondence between touchpad and display. The controls on the touchpad are structured in precisely the same way as the control panels in the display and instantly respond to the movement of the driver's finger.
"The ever-increasing complexity of today's technology makes an easily comprehensible, efficient and reliable operating and display concept indispensable," explained Dr Weber. Drivers should be able to control the various functions intuitively without being distracted in any way. Initial practical testing indicates that the touchpad technology featured in the F 500 Mind could well be a viable alternative.
This intelligent operating principle allows the number of switches and buttons in the instrument panel to be reduced to a minimum, which is another of the research targets. These controls, which are used on the F 500 Mind for example for seat, steering wheel and pedal adjustment and for controlling the air conditioning, likewise feature innovative technology designed to greatly simplify operation: the controls are equipped with special sensors which automatically detect an approaching hand, even at a distance of about five centimetres. In the same instant, the appropriate display listing the various control functions is automatically called up in the instrument panel.
Successful technology transfer from research vehicle to series production
Mercedes-Benz has always used research vehicles such as the current F 500 Mind to pave the way for new technologies. They help engineers to probe and master the complexity of the innovations. Since the early 1980s, the Stuttgart-based car maker has created more than ten of these mobile research labs.
This string of fascinating vehicles – starting with Auto 2000 dating from 1981 and continuing through to the current F 500 Mind – provides clear evidence of the diligence and visionary flair with which DaimlerChrysler investigates the core themes of automotive technology and turns its findings into innovative, future-compliant solutions for its customers.
Many of the systems which were seen as radical when they first appeared in research vehicles years ago are now a commonplace feature in series-production models. Take the DISTRONIC proximity control for instance, which was first seen in the F 100 back in 1991 and eventually made its series-production debut in the S-Class in 1998. Equally, the Active Body Control system now featured in the CL-Class, S-Class and SL-Class, the windowbag, active cornering headlamps, voice-operated control and carbon-fibre bodyshells are all further examples of how technology has been successfully transferred from a research environment to series production.
To ensure it makes the right development decisions, DaimlerChrysler is able to call on a global knowledge network, with some 24,000 developers and over 2,900 researchers currently employed for the Group worldwide. DaimlerChrysler runs research centres in the US, China, India and Japan, in addition to its research facilities in Europe. New styling impetus, meanwhile, is provided by design centres in California, Tokyo and the Italian city of Como.
Research findings find their way into series production vehicles all that more quickly courtesy of digital engineering. The development of the new Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class saw DaimlerChrysler assume the mantle of pioneer once again, by becoming the first manufacturer ever to digitally develop a new car entirely from scratch and to design and test out the manufacturing process in a 'digital factory'. The time that such processes save is then invested in maximising the degree of product maturity. Close intermeshing of all of these disciplines combined with comprehensive technology monitoring leads to research activities being driven by results. By liaising closely with the Group's brands, the features that are decisive to the product's success are defined and then systematically brought up to series-production standard. The focus here is very firmly placed on innovations that are of relevance to customers and on fulfilling the claim of being the first to market within the automotive industry.
(Oct 07, 2004)