Under the microscope: performance-enhancing comfort - Comfort is also conducive to safety

Mar 26, 2013
Safety and comfort — the new S-Class sets new standards in both areas. The two attributes by no means only run in parallel, however: studies by the Customer Research Center (CRC) at Mercedes-Benz show that certain comfort characteristics have a direct influence on driver performance and wellbeing during and after a journey. Comfort is also conducive to safety.
Research on driver-fitness safety, the in-house term used by Mercedes-Benz to denote comfort on long journeys, has been one of the major tasks of the CRC for over 15 years. Well-known international scientists are regularly invited to the CRC to document the current state of research on noise comfort, vibration comfort and climatic comfort, and to analyse the effects on human performance.
The typical approach taken by the CRC studies on performance-enhancing comfort is initially to register the customer-related influencing factors. Findings on the subject of "long-distance journeys" are obtained by means of detailed customer surveys in Germany and the USA. One of the main findings is that uncertainty about events during a journey, e.g. traffic tailbacks, is a significant stress factor.
The second phase involves extensive practical driving tests to systematically examine the influencing factors for their relevance to performance-enhancing comfort. For example using three externally identical E-Class test cars which noticeably but by no means dramatically differ in their vibration and noise comfort, and which have different driver seats. 36 Mercedes customers with long-distance driving experience were sent on a 410-kilometre long circular route covering motorways and country roads in each of the cars, and this route was completed three times.
The fitness of the test subjects during and after the journey was assessed using a number of indicators. During the journey, the heart rate was monitored together with muscular tension in the neck area and the frequency of frowning as an indicator of dissatisfaction. The concentration of the hormone cortisol in the saliva gave an indication of stress levels. Directly after the journeys the test subjects were subjected to performance and alertness tests to assess their level of fitness. They were also asked to complete questionnaires and assess their level of fatigue, for example. Indirect indicators also taken into account included the average driving speeds and especially the length of the breaks taken by the drivers.
Dr. Götz Renner summarises the conclusions from the research as a "recipe for performance-enhancing vehicles": "Build a quiet vehicle, especially avoiding the low frequencies, add a good (driver's) seat and first-class climate control. Plan and schedule routes and rest breaks while avoiding tailbacks, entertain the driver, create the fundamental conditions for relaxation and assist him with functions such as the ENERGIZING massage function so that he can cope with stress and fatigue. This vehicle will then have a fit and alert driver – also after the journey."
These findings have already been incorporated into the new S-Class: it is quieter than any Mercedes-Benz before it. The seating system provides unprecedented comfort, including the optional ENERGIZING massage function for all four seats. And the new navigation system provides even more rapid and up-to-date traffic information to facilitate better route planning.