The F 500 Mind showcases the very latest technology
At the Tokyo Motor Show 2003, Mercedes-Benz presented the latest in a string of research vehicles which have attracted much interest and attention over the years and which provide fascinating insights into the automotive technology of tomorrow and beyond. Packaged as a modern four-door fastback saloon, the F 500 Mind mobile research lab showcases more than a dozen ideas for enhancing the safety, drive technology and comfort of future Mercedes passenger cars.
The DaimlerChrysler researchers will be using this vehicle to conduct the first practical tests of these innovative systems and pave the way for their commercialisation. The raft of innovations extends all the way from the night vision system with infrared laser headlamps to two-way doors and a programmable multivision display in the cockpit. Electronic accelerator and brake pedals, an interior pillar which provides structural rigidity and an ultrasound driver information system are further features being tested by Mercedes-Benz in the F 500 Mind.
For the powertrain, the DaimlerChrysler researchers have developed a high-performance diesel hybrid unit whose NEDC fuel consumption is up to 20 per cent lower than that of a comparable CDI engine. The state-of-the-art V8 diesel engine (184 kW/250 hp) from the S-Class has been combined with a powerful electric motor (50 kW) which is switched on and off by an electronic controller in response to traffic conditions and driving style. The electric motor can take over for example when moving off from rest, in stop-go conditions or in other situations where an internal combustion engine does not operate at optimal efficiency. When the driver demands more power, the V8 internal combustion engine cuts in to provide sharp acceleration. The 300 V battery for the electric motor is located under the passenger cell and is recharged during braking.
With a body length of 5092 millimetres and a wheelbase of 2965 mm, the F 500 Mind offers a significant gain in legroom in the rear compared with a conventional present-day saloon in this class. This was made possible by using innovative-design electronic accelerator and brake pedals which take the form of pressure-sensitive surfaces. Sensors in these “pedals” transmit the driver’s commands to the engine and SBCô brake system by means of electrical impulses. The technology takes up much less room than conventional mechanical pedals, increasing the length of the front footwell by 120 millimetres. The driver’s and front passenger’s seats can therefore be positioned further forward, so providing more space for the rear passengers. The steering, too, is controlled electronically.
Intelligent door-opening technology allows the doors to be opened in two different ways: either conventionally (both doors open forwards) or from the centre (centre-opening). In the latter mode, the B-pillar stump moves backwards with the rear door to provide a 1900 mm-wide opening for occupant entry and exit.
In the absence of full-size B-pillars, which would normally provide the all-important structural rigidity and side impact protection, the Stuttgart engineers came up with an innovative interior pillar which provides exemplary rigidity and typical Mercedes standards of occupant safety. The pillar is located in the middle of the vehicle towards the rear, and connects the reinforced floor pan to the roof structure. It also houses the air-conditioning ducts and interior lighting units.
The multivision display in the cockpit of the F 500 Mind forms the centrepiece of an innovative instrumentation and control system which offers the driver more flexible information delivery and at the same time reduces fatigue. The dials and displays in the instrument cluster are programmable and their images can be optically superposed or combined with the aid of a semitransparent mirror. In this way the driver can call up a wide range of information at the push of a button on the steering wheel. The information is always displayed directly in the driver’s field of vision where it can be seen easily and will not distract him. A further display, the central display unit, is situated above the centre console. It is linked to a touchpad whose surface is divided up in exactly the same way as the surface of the central display. By briefly touching it, the driver can control the navigation system, radio, air conditioning, telephone and other systems.
Further switches and keys in the vehicle are equipped with special sensors which can detect the driver’s approaching hand even at a distance of several centimetres. They then immediately call up the relevant function in the central display, for more convenient operation.
An advanced-design voice control system and an ultrasound-based driver information system take convenience even further. The ultrasound technology targets the sound at the driver so that only he or she can hear the information from the navigation system, the traffic news and other sound-based information sources, while the front passenger and rear passengers remain undisturbed.
In the dark or in poor visibility, the innovative night vision system projects its images onto the right-hand display. The night vision system consists of two infrared laser headlights on the front of the vehicle which “illuminate” the road with their invisible light over a range of up to 150 metres. The light reflected back from other vehicles, cyclists or pedestrians to a camera mounted on the front windscreen of the F 500 Mind is projected in black and white onto the multivision display. This allows the driver to spot hazards much earlier than in a vehicle operating on conventional dipped headlamps, which have a range of only about 40 metres. Thus Night Vision offers further opportunities for making night driving safer.
As a mobile research lab, the F 500 Mind is equipped with a special “laboratory bench” which folds out towards the rear. This allows a researcher sitting in the back of the vehicle to monitor and control the vehicle systems during testing on the proving grounds and to carry out measurements. For example the researchers are planning to use this fascinating vehicle for intensive user acceptance-testing of the innovative instrumentation and control system and for further practical testing of the diesel hybrid drive system and the Night Vision system.