- Technology carrier featuring revolutionary new spatial concept
- Voice-operated control, proximity radar and Xenon headlamps make debut
The F 100 research car caused quite a stir when it appeared at the 1991 North American International Motor Show in Detroit. With this particular study, Daimler was hoping to provide inspiration for numerous aspects of future passenger car development, without losing sight in any way of the top-priority concerns of safety and comfort.
With the combined expertise of MBB, AEG-Telefunken and Dornier – all Daimler subsidiaries at that time – the research engineers in Stuttgart succeeded in devising a car that was brimming with ingenious new ideas and design touches. Taking the interior, for example, the driver was not seated on one side as in conventional cars, instead the driver’s seat was placed in the safest position of all: in the middle. The idea for this novel seating arrangement stemmed from the finding that on average only 1.5 people are travelling in each passenger car. This statistical revelation led researchers to the conclusion that the safest place in the car should be reserved for the driver. Spreading out before the driver was a cockpit which featured a colour monitor instead of an instrument cluster. As well as showing readings for road speed and engine speed, the monitor could also issue warnings when the tyre pressure was too low, the oil needed to be topped up or there was insufficient washer fluid in the reservoir, for example.
The F 100 could carry five people in all, with two rows of seats in the rear of the saloon offering ample space for four passengers. A clever new door concept was developed for convenient access and egress: special hinged pivoting doors were devised for the front, which used an elaborate hinged mechanism combined with two servo units to swing the door up away from the floor. At the rear of the car could be found pivot-and-slide doors, whose light operating mechanism was controlled by an electrically powered servo system in similar fashion to the front doors. This servo function can be found today in various models from Mercedes-Benz.
The electrical energy required to operate this modern-day “Open Sesame!” door opener was drawn from solar collectors mounted on the roof of the F 100. Covering an area of two square metres, this solar “sail” could generate 100 watts of power which was continuously fed into the vehicle’s electrical system, paving the way for the inclusion of further features too. If the car was left parked with the summer sun beating down on it, for instance, the electronics would use the solar power to actuate a mini blower, which would then expel the hot air that had built up inside the car into the atmosphere. Since 2002, this very same function has been offered as a convenience feature for the Mercedes-Benz E-Class.
Once safely seated inside the car, the driver could concentrate on the task at hand. There was no need to preoccupy himself with adjusting the seat and mirrors to the correct position, that was all taken care off by a small magnetic smart card, a data carrying device that doubled as the vehicle’s ignition key. The magnetic strip on the plastic card stored personalised driver data, which was used by the onboard computer to adjust both seat and mirrors into the correct position with the assistance of servo motors.
Some years later, the F 200 Imagination appeared featuring a refined version of the smart card system, which went on to celebrate its series production premiere in the Mercedes-Benz S-Class in 1998.
While the vehicle was on the move, a combined radar and video system supplied the driver with valuable information on what was going on around him, information which the driver would otherwise only obtain with great effort or not at all. The rearwards view was one example of this: during the journey, a rear-mounted camera tracked the traffic following the F 100, and at the journey’s end, a visual parking aid was activated to assist the driver with reverse parking. This gave the driver a clear view of the areas immediately behind the car which would otherwise be hidden from sight. These systems were supplemented by a special traffic radar which helped the driver of the F 100 in practically all situations by warning of obstacles lying on the road ahead as well as monitoring the zone behind the car more efficiently. This made lane changes safer, for example, as the system was able to signal the presence of any road users in the exterior mirror’s blind spot.
Drivers also had the extra peace of mind granted by a proximity warning radar fitted at the front of the vehicle that was capable of assuming control of the vehicle’s cruise control system to maintain the saloon at the correct proximity to the vehicle ahead depending on the current speed, the same system which has been available for the Mercedes-Benz S-Class since 1998.
The F 100 also showed the shape of things to come in other respects too. For the first time ever, DaimlerChrysler researchers equipped the passenger car study with driver assist systems such as voice-operated control and an automatic emergency call system, the forerunners of technological firsts which were both put into series production at Mercedes-Benz in the mid-1990s. Powerful gas-discharge headlamps also made their debut appearance, as did a data bus system built around fibre-optic cables, two more innovations which reached the series-production development stage just a short time later.