Perpetually preeminent in the field of automotive safety, Mercedes-Benz will roll out its latest take on the subject, the new ESF 2009 Experimental Safety Vehicle, next week at the Enhanced Safety of Vehicles Conference in Stuttgart. The firm's first such comprehensive functional research lab since its initial ESF project in 1974, the 2009 ESF is based on a production S 400 Hybrid but showcases numerous active and passive systems that far outstrip even the formidable passenger-protection elements in that vehicle. From its Intelligent Lighting with adaptive LED headlamps that can not only look around corners but vary their operating parameters to match prevailing driving conditions to LED brake lamps that can flash a warning to following traffic in emergency stopping situations, the ESF 2009 embodies a true 21st century vision of M-B's design philosophy.

Among its scores of advanced technologies, the ESF 2009 highlights a quantum elevation of the supplemental inflatable restraints that are incorporated into an equally new iteration of Mercedes' comprehensive Pre-Safe System. Beyond its normal array of conventional airbags, the ESF 2009 is fitted with additional units that prevent rear passengers from suffering body-to-body and head-to-head contacts in the event of a severe impact. It also has seatbelts with inflatable elements that help dissipate pressure spikes on the torso and mini-baglets in the sides of its upper front seat bolsters that move occupants inward by 50 mm to mitigate injury potential in side crashes by up to one third. The most dramatic addition to this collection of incredible inflatables is a Braking Bag that's located under the floor of the vehicle. Actuated by the Pre-Safe control logic, it deploys an instant before any projected impact, putting a high-friction lower-surface in contact with the pavement that simultaneously helps both slow and stabilize the vehicle.

While the latest Pre-Safe bag of tricks has been enlarged to include circuitry that can sense impending rear collisions and automatically applies the brakes to prevent secondary impacts and mitigate whiplash, the most impressive and innovative addition to the package is an item called Pre-Safe Structure. It consists of a unique metal side-door beam element that literally "inflates" within a fraction of a second via an on-board gas generator to afford even greater passenger protection in the event of a lateral crash.

Although Mercedes execs offered no specific timetable as to when innovations seen on the ESF 2009 will be introduced on its production cars, they provide clear insight as to the scope of the automaker's vision for the future. Ulrich Mellinghoff, Head of Mercedes Safety Development, emphasized that intent by noting: "real life safety is about more than scoring points in standardized crash tests, or the number of onboard airbags. The ESF 2009 clearly illustrates the comprehensive approach of Mercedes-Benz with its numerous innovations for more passive and active safety. In line with our claim: One star is sufficient."

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