Mercedes turns sunvisors into sunlight to combat fatigue
MERCEDES has turned its brightest lights on combating fatigue, one of the top three killers on our roads.
The Benz boffins have come up with the "vitalising interior light" to trigger drivers' natural response to sunshine and keep them alert. The device, built into the underside of a vehicle sunvisor, has been shown to lift drivers' attention levels.
According to the Centre for Road Safety in NSW, driver fatigue can be as dangerous as drink-driving - and fatigue-related crashes are twice as likely to be fatal because drivers who are asleep can't brake.
The Mercedes starting point was the importance of sunlight for humans. Scientist Sebastian Schueler, working in what the brand calls lighting innovations, says: "It makes you get awake in the morning and relax in the evening."
In 2001, researchers discovered a third kind of receptor in the human eye. Called the retinal ganglion cell, it is photosensitive - it responds to light
"Humans are used to the blue sky during the day, and they (the cells) are only sensitive to this colour," says Schueler. The cells don't contribute to vision but are directly connected to the brain's inner clock.
Curious to find whether the discovery might lead to some way to improve car safety, the Mercedes whitecoats began by measuring how much sunlight gets inside a car or truck cabin.
The internal light exposure was only 10 to 20 per cent of what an individual would get standing outside the vehicle.
"This is biological darkness," says Schueler. "Your rhythm suffers, your concentration suffers, and even your mood suffers. So then we came up with an idea …"
Using biologically effective light to improve driver focus was then tested extensively, to assess whether the theory worked in practice.
"First of all, in 2016 and 2017, we made a study with an Actros truck," Schueler says.
The company sent two trucks, with and without the technology, to Finland. In winter, when the days are short. Eight drivers spent a week in each truck, logging more than 40,000km in testing.
Benz's research team measured brain activity with electroencephalograms, conducted attention tests and assessed mood improvement with questionnaires.
"The results were very positive," says Schueler. "We could measure they were much more attentive during the drive (in the trucks with the tech)."
There was a reduction of about 50 per cent in dozy driving.
In 2018 the team switched vehicles. "Passenger cars are a very different situation," Schueler says. "You don't drive in a passenger car for eight hours a day, usually. We focused on a commuter situation."
This study in southern Germany involved more than 40 test drivers. One day they drove to and from work in an E-Class sedan equipped with the vitalising interior light, the next in an identical car without the technology.
"In more than 20,000 test kilometres on public roads, once again a real-life study, the results there were just the same," he says.
The vitalising interior light was just one of the innovations in the ESF 2019, a one-off future safety tech concept car Mercedes-Benz revealed in Stuttgart earlier this month.