Mercedes F 015 leaps into the future of autonomous driving
When you choose to debut a full concept car at the Consumer Electronics Show, rather than the looming international auto show a few days later, it's gotta be a piece of forward-looking, high-tech wizardry. The Mercedes-Benz F 015 Luxury in Motion is that and more. The car represents Mercedes' vision of a fully autonomous rolling lounge that envelops four passengers in technology and comfort.
The F 015 is a sort of collage of futuristic technological concepts. The smooth, pod-like car is driven by a fuel cell hybrid powertrain that powers the car (on paper at least) up to 684 zero-emission miles (1,100 km), 560 (900 km) of these on fuel cell-derived electricity and 124 (200 km) on battery power. Mercedes gives no indication as to what specific combination of batteries, fuel cells and motors supports that lofty claim, though.
Mercedes also remains pretty quiet about the exterior, outside of stating the obvious – "low-slung front end, smooth and streamlined roof line, flat front windscreen." To that we'd add it has a color scheme reminiscent of last year's Vision G-Code concept, one of our favorites of 2014.
Instead of getting weighed down in superfluous details, Mercedes zeroes in on the real highlight of the concept, the lounge-style cabin. The swiveling front seats can face forward as in a normal car, but given the lack of any human driving responsibilities, they can also swing around to face the rear passengers, creating a roomy interior space that promises to make passengers of even the Maybach S600 feel a bit cramped in comparison. The seats automatically swivel 30 degrees outward when the doors open, making it easier to get in and out.
Passengers of the futuristic car can take advantage of their new face-to-face orientation to converse amongst themselves, but who opts for real-life conversation when they can lose themselves in a world of cat videos and emoticons? The "digital arena" of the F 015 keeps occupants connected by way of six high-resolution displays integrated into the instrument and side panels. The displays can be operated via touch, gesture control and eye tracking.
We'd love to see one of these visionary autonomous concepts drop the steering wheel completely, but Mercedes follows in the footsteps of Rinspeed in leaving it there. Perhaps the world isn't quite ready to come to grips with a car stripped completely bare of manual driving capabilities. The interior keeps up Mercedes-level appearances with a combination of walnut wood, metal, glass and ice-white Nappa leather.
Mercedes doesn't provide any new details on autonomous systems, stressing that it already paved the way for these technologies with the S 500 Intelligent Drive, which drove the 62-mile (100-km) Bertha-Benz route from Mannheim to Pforzheim on its own in 2013. That car used a specially prepared 3D road and infrastructure map of the route and a robust set of vehicle sensors based on those Mercedes uses in production models. The upgraded hardware suite included a widened stereo camera, three extra long-range radars, four short-range radars at the corners, a traffic light-monitoring color camera behind the windshield, and a rear-window camera for comparing physical features against the digital mapping data set.
"We have a master plan in place to take the big leap required, getting from technically feasible to commercially viable," says Dr Dieter Zetsche, Daimler AG chairman and head of Mercedes-Benz Cars. "The F 015 Luxury in Motion demonstrates where this may take us."
While you wait for that journey to unfold, you can get an idea of what the destination will look like, both inside and outside, in Mercedes' F 015 video below.