Experimental Safety Cars were a big deal back in the 1970s, when most major manufacturers were building (usually) bright yellow, heavy-looking sedans with massive black rubber bumpers front and rear, all in an attempt to develop and showcase safety technology.

Mercedes started building these again back in 2009, and now they have an all-new Experimental Safety Vehicle (ESF, because German, I suppose). It’s based on their GLE SUV, and it’s full of interesting, if a bit overdone, ideas.

Old-school Safety Cars
Photo: Mercedes-Benz

Of course, Mercedes claims the new ESF 2019 has Level 4 autonomy, though since this is just an experimental safety vehicle, the safety dork’s equivalent of a concept car, there’s no real evidence to say if it actually has real, functioning Level 4 (that is hands and eyes off, near-total) autonomy.

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What the car definitely does have are a lot of interesting ideas, especially in response to the idea of car-t0-human communication. Most of us likely don’t realize how much we communicate with the driver of a car when we’re outside—we make eye contact, we gesture to see if it’s okay to, say, cross in front of the car, we evaluate if they seem to be paying attention, and so on.

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When there’s no one driving, the car will need to take over these roles, which is what Mercedes is attempting to do with the use of LCD screens in the grille area and in the rear window, as well as lighting elements all over the body of the car.

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The interior safety systems of the car acknowledge that autonomy means that people won’t likely always be sitting bolt upright and facing forward, pew-like, like we do in current cars, so airbag and other safety equipment is designed to be more fully-enveloping.

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The car also demonstrates a specially-designed infant seat that has monitoring options to monitor your kid from up front, and gives status updates about the safety systems in the seat. It may also be capable of instilling good values into the child, should you find yourself lacking, but I’m speculating.

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There’s a whole video of all the safety features that you can watch here, but I think you’ll most be excited by the most fun, goofy part:

It’s the little triangle robot, right? It’s sort of absurd, but I love it. It feels like something out of Wall-E, where it would have been named WARN-G or TRIANG-L or something.

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Thanks to this little robot, if you break down, you can comfortably stay in your car and sob while the robot lets the world know things have gone terribly, just terribly, in your day.

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Can’t you just send the robot to go get help? I can see a movie where one of these gets loose and hit by lightning and befriends some sad kid and they go on adventures and maybe learn something about themselves in the process.

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This new ESF is impressive and full of interesting ideas that may or may not make it to the real world, but it also suffers from something every safety experimental vehicle has been afflicted by: it looks like some kind of emergency vehicle.

Sure, people want to be safe, but, remember, cars are irrational things, and nobody is willing to be safer if it means always driving around in something that looks like a dorkier ambulance. People would literally rather die.

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But, you know, people are idiots. Like me!