– I am about to drive the world’s first car. This was invented by Karl Benz, patented in 1886. Of course, this is not the real thing, this is a replica. But I’ve partnered with Mercedes to make a video about car safety. – Yeah. (laughs) – Right? There’s not a lot of safety here. Safety would come later. You ready? – Yeah! I trust you. (engine sputters slowly) Awesome! – I’m driving the world’s first motor vehicle. When he made his patent, what did he call this invention? – Patent Motorcar. This is the gasoline tank. The only place in Germany where you could actually buy ligroin, or gasoline, back then were pharmacies. They sold it not as a cough medicine, don’t worry. They sold it as a stain remover, a washing agent. In Germany, there’s still a word, Waschbenzin, washing gasoline, but no one really knows why it’s called like that. Benz had an early thing for safety. His ignition is a really modern one, because in here there’s a battery inside which was fairly new back then.
And, of course, igniting the gasoline oxygen fumes with an electric spark is much safer than if you go with your lighter there and you’re trying to ignite a whole thing. Let’s say the most important part, or course, is the cylinder with the piston. And the piston moves front and back. – This is a single cylinder engine. – Yeah, a single cylinder engine. This is the cooling water tank, and of course what’s really important, it’s the oil reservoir. Lubrication is really important, because you can see everything’s open here, and so all the time you lose a lot of oil, and for my colleagues it’s always a big fuss cleaning this thing up. This the drive belt. – Right. – It’s not just a drive belt, it’s also your brake. It’s leather, so you can imagine if you do brake a lot you get problems with the leather band.
The flywheel here we need for the ignition. We need it to start it. (engine sputters) – Wow! (laughs) – Okay, see, that’s really simple. We don’t have a lot of stuff here. – Yeah. – We just have the steering crank, and this is our gas and our brakes. – Okay, you’re moving us into gear. – Yeah. – Whoa! (engine sputters) This does feel fast. – Oh, it even goes, ahh, faster. – Whoa! (both laugh) The top speed of this vehicle was 16 kilometers per hour, that’s about 10 miles an hour. – We can go fast. – It feels faster than I was expecting. (engine sputters) Just 16 years later, this car could go 80 kilometers per hour. This car in 1928 could already go 192 kilometers per hour.
By 1938, cars had gotten incredibly fast. This car right here set a record of 432.7 kilometers per hour. That’s almost 270 miles per hour, and another driver trying to beat that record died the same day. And to this day, no one has beat that car on a public road. The automobile revolutionized transportation. It allowed people to travel faster than ever before. But that also created a really difficult physics problem, which is that if you’re moving fast and you need to stop or you hit something, you have to decelerate incredibly rapidly and that creates huge forces on the people inside the car, and causing injury and sometimes death. And as more and more cars came on the road and traveled faster and faster, the number of fatalities increased, peaking in a lot of developed nations in the ’70s. But then scientists and engineers embraced this challenge and figured out new, innovative ways to create cars to minimize those injuries.
To improve safety, regular crash testing began in the late 1950s. But what amazes me is, the crash test dummy really hadn’t been perfected yet. So actual scientists and engineers drove the cars in crash tests. – People like me actually started to do first testing with themselves. Certain accelerations, how much you can suffer, I mean before you get any injuries. Of course, today this would be impossible to do. – But when they finally did develop crash test dummies, well then people weren’t driving the cars anymore so they needed a different way to propel the vehicle. And so they used this, a hot water rocket, to propel the car into all sorts of crash test situations.
One of the first major safety innovations that was introduced in a car like this in 1959 was crumple zones. That is, regions in the front and the rear of the car that were designed to collapse in the event of an accident. I remember when I was a kid, hearing about crumple zones thinking that was a ridiculous idea to improve safety. I mean, why would you want your car to collapse? But the point is to increase the distance over which the deceleration occurs, and in doing so, you actually reduce the magnitude of the acceleration and so you reduce the forces on the passengers inside. And that is what saves lives. – This vehicle has done a 64 kilometer per hour crash, frontal impact, against a deformable barrier. This is what we classically call the crumple zone. – But it’s this beam here that’s designed to crumple? – Exactly. So this takes away a lot of energy by crumpling. The passenger compartment itself is designed with different steel qualities, if you want, high strength and ultra high strength materials, so that it’s getting stiffer and stiffer as closer as you get to the passenger compartment. – One of the biggest challenges for car safety is Newton’s First Law that says whatever is moving at a constant speed will tend to maintain that constant speed. So if a car hits something, the people inside maintain their constant speed, fly through the windshield, and suffer a very high deceleration when they hit the road. This is why seatbelts are so important. They ensure that you stay in the vehicle and decelerate with it. You know, when seatbelts were originally introduced, they were an option, something you could pay extra for. But once we realized just how useful they are and how they save lives, well, they became standard and now they are mandatory. Now, airbags were made available by Mercedes-Benz for the first time in a serious production car in 1981. And again, the idea is similar. In a head-on collision, you want to stop the driver’s head from accelerating too fast into the steering wheel, and that’s what the airbag does. It allows that acceleration to take place over a larger distance and therefore at a lower rate. So it helps preserve the driver’s head. – What you can also see is, look at this tiny gap here. You can barely get your fingers in between. – So that steering column has collapsed. – Exactly. And it has collapsed in a designed way.
So after you reach a certain force threshold, then the driver basically pushes away the entire steering column, including the airbag, by taking away energy. And what you want to do as an engineer for restraint systems is that you want to basically connect the driver, passenger, and the occupants as tightly as possible to the car in a way that you have the most time to decelerate. – Seatbelts, crumple zones, and airbags are all passive safety features. They’re passive in that they assume a collision is occurring and they’re just trying to reduce the acceleration on the passengers inside. But there are also active safety systems, like the anti-lock braking system, or ABS, which was introduced by Mercedes in 1978. The idea with ABS is to give you more control so you may be able to swerve the car and avoid an accident. The way ABS works is by allowing the wheels to rotate rather than locking them up, and having the wheels slide across the ground as might happen with traditional braking systems. So, with ABS the wheel is allowed to turn, and then it’s braked hard, and then it turns a little more, brakes again.
And by doing that in quick succession you allow the wheel to stay rolling on the ground and maintain static friction against the road. That actually increases the frictional force and increases your ability to decelerate and also steer around a collision. So ABS was a huge improvement over past braking systems. All of these innovations have dramatically improved road safety. But there’s always more to be done. And I got to take a look at Mercedes Benz Intelligent Drive technology, which is what they’re doing right now to improve safety, performance, and convenience. And I actually made a series of videos about that over on Mercedes-Benz Channel. You can click here to check them out. (car engine hums) Okay, we’re about to go into a dangerous turn. (brakes squeal) and experience the Pre-Safe. (laughing) – [Driver] Hey, I can’t brake. – I can see this car coming, oh my god! (brakes squeal) (host laughs) – It tends for me to brake in this situation. – I have been in more potentially crash situations today than I have been in for my whole life. (driver laughs)