It wasn't so long ago that self-driving cars were seen as the stuff of some distant sci-fi future. All of a sudden, that future is upon us, but we don't yet know what these cars will look like. New concepts from Mercedes suggest they'll be a place for relaxing or working, but not driving.
Perhaps the most blue-sky concept we've seen of what driverless cars could be is artist Dominic Wilcox's self-driving stained-glass car with a bed inside. The Mercedes concepts are a little more similar to those Rinspeed showed us last year. All three concepts, however, agree that self-driving vehicles give us the potential to radically rethink the car's layout.
"We are convinced that autonomous driving will be a central factor on the way to comfortable, accident-free driving," says Dr. Herbert Kohler, Daimler's head of corporate research and sustainability. "Autonomous driving relieves pressure and stress in driving situations usually regarded as tedious, for example in tailbacks, in inner-city areas or on long journeys. At the same time, it opens up new ways in which people can make the best use of their time on the road."
Like the Rinspeed concepts, Mercedes has taken the potential for self-driving vehicles to its natural conclusion. There is no longer a need for a driver at the wheel, and so the car interior of the future becomes more like a lounge area or meeting space. The front seats of the car can be turned around and passengers can spend their time relaxing or working. Mercedes sees potential for turning the car into a "private area of retreat in increasingly dense urban traffic."
Amongst the other features in Mercedes' future car concept are screens providing information about the journey and the car, and the ability for passengers to interact with the vehicle via touchscreens or gestures. Sensors might track track eye, hand and finger movements with which passengers could control functions, for example.
Mercedes also points to a number of embryonic technologies that it is testing in its S 500 Intelligent Drive research vehicle as ones that may play a key role in its autonomous cars of the future. Autonomous cornering, navigation of roundabouts, and merging are all in the process of being developed. Likewise, ancillary technologies such as sensor systems, traffic light detection and obstacle reaction are also being developed.