When you slip behind the wheel of a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, you might wonder what exactly is it that makes this luxury sedan worth its $100k price tag, or $1 million at times. Is there a mystery behind its ability to float down the road with minimal body roll? Does its mystical hidden technology actually keep you safer?
For over a decade, the engineers at Mercedes-Benz have been implementing the use of a stereo camera system that at first simply supported the Active Body Control, but now it is being integrated into the latest safety advancements making the S-Class not only a wonderful driving machine, but a smart and safe one, too.
Stereo Camera System Constantly Scans the Road
While the stereo camera system was originally developed to create a hyper-responsive body control system, it now works in harmony with the advanced safety suite. Multiple cameras positioned about the car create a 360 degree image of your surroundings and send the images to the onboard computer. Visual recognition software constantly compares changes in your environment and can detect objects like bicycles, animals and pedestrians. If one of these mobile obstacles is calculated to be in your path, a variety of safety enhancements are triggered to help the busy driver avoid getting into a collision before it ever happens.
Pre-Collision Systems Apply Brakes Before You Can React
If you are backing up and the vehicle detects an obstacle, it will alert you to the problem, apply the brakes and pre-tension your seat belts as part of the PRE-SAFE system. While traveling on the highway, the cameras track the movement of traffic approaching behind you. When another car enters your blind spot, an alert is displayed on your heads up display to the presence of this potential hazard. If you’re stopped at a traffic light, the cameras remain on high alert and will trigger the PRE-SAFE system if it thinks you are about to be rear-ended by a vehicle approaching from behind.
Slowing Traffic Sensed by Adaptive Cruise Control
On older vehicles, you really could only engage your cruise control when the road was empty and you looked forward to an afternoon of free sailing. With adaptive cruise controls, the stereo camera system sends constantly updated data about the traffic around you. If the flow of traffic slows from 65 mph to 50 mph due to congestion or weather, the adaptive cruise control sees the changes and adjusts your speed until traffic opens up again. If it notices that the car in front of you is suddenly slowing, the pre-collision system is activated. While this translates into a safer commute for you, it can also improve your fuel usage efficiency as tests have shown that cruise control manages fuel consumption much better than when you’ve got your foot on and off the pedals.
The Stereo Camera System was Built for Performance
All these pro-active safety systems that make use of high-speed video and data technology wouldn’t have come into being if the first innovations in better road performance weren’t pursued by Mercedes-Benz engineers. Cars maintain control when all four wheels are firmly planted on the ground with a large contact patch. Normally when a car enters a corner, or performs an evasive maneuver, the body will roll lifting pressure off one or more tires, losing traction and contact with the pavement. The original Active Body Control built in the 90’s used hydraulic servos and a collection of sensors on the suspension to detect changes in the shape of the road. When one shock lost compression due to a sharp turn or bump in the road, the hydraulic servo would apply extra pressure to maintain as much contact with the road as possible.
Over time, lasers were introduced into the system that would actually look forward and pro-actively prepare the suspension for upcoming bumps, dips, and turns in the road. Drivers and passengers experienced far less body roll and even by pre-positioning brakes, less of a see-saw motion when hard stopping was required.
The latest innovations began arriving in 2010, as the stereo camera system now used video instead of lasers to provide information to the onboard computers. Upgrades in software made for even faster response and the ability to predict changes in the road. Ultimately, while drivers of the S-Class and other rear-wheel drive models noticed a beautifully responsive yet smooth ride, improved control meant fewer accidents were happening due to over-reaction on the driver’s part.
Advances Continue to Be Made
In 2014, Mercedes-Benz not only integrated their pro-active safety systems with their well-established camera, they applied the abilities of the entire system toward further improving performance. As the vehicle accelerates in a standard car, the nose dips down due to a combination of aerodynamics and mechanical forces created by the drive train. Now the stereo camera system senses the change in height and works to level out the car for a more seamless climb through the gears. When traveling at speed to enhance fuel efficiency, the system actually softens the shocks to allow the vehicle to squat down creating a more aerodynamic silhouette.
Ultimately, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class is truly a high-performance machine. Its ability to hug the road while leaving full control in the driver’s hands is enhanced by the stereo camera system and always evolving safety technology. Ultimately, it’s worth every single penny.