The contributions of Rodolfo Schöneburg, Marica Paurevic, and Hans Weisbarth to vehicle structure, occupant restraints, and driver assistance systems have significantly improved automobile safety, protected lives, and promoted increased use of seat belts. Prof. Schöneburg’s team helped develop and bring to market a system that employs a network of sensors including radar and cameras within the automobile that can sense when a crash may be imminent and can prepare the vehicle and its occupants for the impending accident. Known as PRE-SAFE®, the system can tighten the front seat belts, adjust seats, and close windows and sunroofs if it senses conditions such as skidding or sudden braking. The activation of the protection systems during the precrash phase places the occupants in the proper position for optimal effectiveness of the safety restraints. Introduced in 2002 in Mercedes Benz vehicles, the PRE-SAFE system has proven its effectiveness in protecting front-seat occupants during actual accidents. While much of the safety-enhancement technology has focused on the front-seat occupants, improvements were needed to better protect rear-seat passengers. To address the needs of rear-seat occupants, the team developed the Active Seat-Belt Buckle (ABB). To encourage seat belt use, when a rear door is opened, the ABB emerges from the seat and illuminates, so it is easier to locate. After buckling, the ABB automatically retracts and, in doing so, reduces the belt slack. When a precrash situation is sensed through the PRE-SAFE system, the ABB applies reversible belt tensioning to reduce slack and provide more secure restraint. If a crash occurs, the illuminated ABB also aids in rescue efforts by making the buckle easier to find when unfastening rear-seat passengers. The team was also instrumental in improving the virtual models of the human body used to assess the ABB, which optimized the seat belt geometry to prevent the pelvis from pushing under the belt. The ABB first appeared in 2013 in Mercedes Benz vehicles.
Prof. Schöneburg is the recipient of the US National Traffic Highway Safety Administration’s Award for Safety Engineering Excellence (2007) and the Pathfinder Award from the ASC Automotive Safety Council for advancement of automotive safety (2013). He is currently director of vehicle safety, durability, and corrosion protection with Mercedes Benz/Daimler AG, Sindelfingen, Germany.