The Night-driving Simulator At Mercedes-Benz In Sindelfingen
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The sun is already low on the horizon. The last colleagues are leaving the testing grounds for a well-deserved evening at home. But for Andreas Hauser and his colleagues in the headlamp testing unit, this is when their workday begins — normally, at any rate. No daily briefing. No night drive. For him and his colleagues, the workday is all about light.
The lighting system of a vehicle serves several purposes. Efforts to improve car headlamps also play a key role in making it even safer to drive in the dark. From a statistical viewpoint, every kilometer driven at night is twice as prone to accidents as one that is driven in the daytime. Of course a good light pattern for nighttime driving is a crucial factor not only for safety but also for driving comfort.
And finally, the shape of the headlamps is also a trademark of the brand. There are self-appointed experts who can identify every model series of a brand by its headlamps alone. It allows completely new functions, e. This is where the light systems testers from Sindelfingen come into play. Today, however, a new technology — the night-driving simulator — is enabling the developers to conduct many of the necessary testing scenarios during the daytime. Besides, in the simulator the light developers can repeat exactly the same driving situation as often as they like.
As a result, they need to change only a few parameters in order to see at once how the light pattern has changed. Apropos parameters, a light simulator can of course also simulate headlamps before thgey even exist as physical components that can be touched and installed. This is what the night-driving simulator looks like Andreas Hauser lets me sit down in the seat box located in the middle of the projection screen. The car in question is an E-Class that has been cut in half just behind the B-pillar.
All of the technical components that are not relevant for simulating the light pattern have been removed from this former test vehicle. Nonetheless, typical car sounds can be heard as soon as the starting button is pushed. Next, he uses a tablet to ramp up four high-tech video projectors. It takes about a minute to boot up the entire system. It stands for Virtual Test Drive — comprehensive driving simulation software that the manufacturer has expanded with a high-resolution lighting application especially for Mercedes-Benz.
But the simulator can handle this discipline, too. In front of the seat box, a white screen curves around in a semicircle. Four projectors mounted on the ceiling project images of the road ahead and the light pattern onto it. Because of the curved screen, the driver has a wider field of vision than he or she would if the screen were flat.
And there are small monitors in the rear-view mirrors that depict the virtual traffic going on behind the car. A special, and challenging, requirement in the design of the light testing system is the simulation of absolute darkness. In such a situation, our testers could not meaningfully assess the distribution of light. The solution is to use projectors that have been specially developed for such simulations.
Their patented technology, which is unique on the market, makes it possible to simulate the optimal night situation that our light engineers in Sindelfingen need for testing the latest developments. Hauser says that driving in a simulator can be compared to playing a computer game.
However, after being in the simulator for a few minutes, the driver is immersed in a whole new world. The software uses a digital control unit to forward the programmed parameters to the projectors. The result is then integrated into the test environment and displayed on the screen. In other words, depending on what the light testers want, the software can merge all the individual components together. Thus the developers can depict and compare them at the push of a button.
The simulator is controlled by means of a tablet PC. The tablet can be used, for example, to make pedestrians appear on the road system, where they are recognized by the assistance system. At the push of a button, the simulation can also make several cars or a construction site part of the surroundings.
The developers can test the light distribution in all of these situations. The possibilities are practically endless. For the light testers, curves are especially complex Certain driving scenarios can be run through over and over again under a variety of weather conditions. That makes it easy for the light testers to systematically check how the light algorithm behaves. Our headlamps are tested in all of these scenarios, and in many cases that can now be done in the simulator.
This eliminates strenuous real-life test runs. After all, there are no genuine winding roads in the region around Sindelfingen. Besides, for some scenarios the testers need a second vehicle that is driving a certain distance in front of the test car. In order to create such a situation in real-life road traffic, a colleague always has to be driving a second vehicle. In the simulator, that can be done at the push of a button — and without the danger of having the test distorted by a vehicle cutting in between the two cars.
As a digital development area, this is a future-oriented process. And, as with the smartphone, it involves fierce competition and a steady stream of innovations. In the near future, the simulator will probably also be able to precisely reproduce the situation in which the driver is temporarily blinded by the glare of oncoming traffic. The current setup, in which the developers dive all the way into the simulation, was created a year ago, but expansions and improvements are already being planned.
Currently the simulator can only represent the intensity — but not the color impression — of the light distributions. The developers hope that in the future they can create a data format that can represent both kinds of information. That way, they could also use the simulator to assess how the headlamps represent the color transitions between the individual light modules and what the blue fringing along the field of light looks like. This blue fringing can act as a distraction for the driver and other road users.
If Andreas Hauser could be granted one wish concerning the night drive simulator, he would ask for a slider control on the tablet that he could use to adapt all of the important headlamp functions. Then he could adjust all the variables with the slider until he arrived at a result he liked.
However, this wish will remain unfulfilled, because the technology and the software that underpin the light simulator can reproduce lots of scenarios and many different model series. That makes the technology and the software fairly complex — probably too complex to represent the multiple parameters with a couple of slider controls. Will the simulator one day be able to replace all real-life testing?
A light system has hardware as well as software components, so the headlamp also has to be tested as a physical component. It must be able to deliver the functions we specified when we programmed the software. The vehicle light system is absolutely essential for the safety of every Mercedes-Benz. Andreas Hauser explains its functions. For the light developers in Sindelfingen, the light systems of Mercedes-Benz vehicles are in effect their signed personal contribution to automobiles that could be regarded as complex works of art.
What are the characteristics of a good light system? The light should not jerk or flicker. That’s the only way we can guarantee a high level of driving comfort. And by contrast to the sunsets he has seen in the course of his workday, this time everything is very real. What do you think about this topic? Discuss with us on LinkedIn.