Forget self-parking, autonomous driving is the way of the future, as proved by the big reveal by Mercedes-Benz at this week’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES). The research vehicle, F 015 Luxury in Motion, made its world debut at the popular electronics convention. With this new concept comes the realization of the company’s vision for the future of the automotive industry, taking transportation beyond getting from Point A to Point B and elevating it to an experience. With the emergence of an autonomous vehicle, the time of the automotive passenger becomes increasingly more valuable. The first self-driving cars are set to not only revolutionize transportation, but ultimately alter society as a whole. As Dr. Dieter Zetsche, Chairman of the Board of Management of Daimler AG and Head of Mercedes-Benz explained, “Anyone who focuses soley on the technology has not yet grasped how autonomous driving will change our society. The car is growing beyond its role as a mere means of transport and will ultimately become a mobile living space.”
Mercedes-Benz has taken great care in the design of the F 015 Luxury in Motion concept, choosing to focus on functionality, comfort, safety and, the most important element to their consumer, luxury. As urbanization continues to rise, we as people crave privacy more and more. An autonomous drive car perfectly fits this need. It will allow future city-dwellers to escape the stress of driving while maximizing time lost navigating the roads manually.
On the exterior the car looks like something out of a futuristic movie. The streamlined silhouette and low lying front and rear give the car a sleek, smooth look. The exterior is also equipped with LED light modules at both the front and rear. These LED lights provide a large range of functionality, but also serve as the communication with other vehicles on the road. For example, when the car is in autonomous mode, the LEDs are blue, when manually driven they turn white.
The interior was designed specifically to feel more like a lounge rather than a car. The length (5220mm), width (2018mm) and height (1524mm) were specifically chosen to provide space. The focus of this car is passenger room, not instrumentation. The front seats swivel around to face the back seats, and the steering wheel retracts, when the car is in autonomous mode. Should you opt to drive the car manually, the seats simply change to be forward facing and the steering wheel slides out automatically. The lounge-style seating also provides an easy exit for passengers, as the chairs rotate up to 30 degrees when the doors are opened, making it quite easy for passengers to step out.
The interior promotes communication between passenger, car and the outside environment via six screens cleverly integrated into the car’s front instrument panel, rear and side panels. Interaction between vehicle and passenger occurs via gestures, eye-tracking or touch screen. The car even senses the user’s hands, offering operating options within comfortable reach, depending on the passenger’s location in the car. Finally, the screens also provide a visual display of the car’s movement on the road.
It was important to Mercedes-Benz the car be safe, yet lightweight. This was achieved by using a combination of carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic, aluminum and high strength steel. This allowed engineers to shave off 40% of the standard weight of cars in production today. The engineers also designed the doors in a saloon style, with the rear doors positioned on rear hinges. Front and rear doors open to a 90 degree angle, ensuring the spacious interior can be accessed from all sides. Because of the design, they also eliminated the B pillars without losing valuable structure needed for safety. An interconnected system comprised of locking mechanisms ensures the high safety standards are met. When front and rear doors are closed at the same time, these mechanisms fix them tightly to the roof frame and side skirts, allowing a large amount of impact to be absorbed should the car be hit from the front or side, causing minimal damage to the passenger compartment.
While autonomous driving might seem to be a far off dream, the strides
Mercedes-Benz has already made in the semi-autonomous category, with features like DISTRONIC PLUS with Steering Assist, Stop&Go Pilot semi-autonomous traffic jam vehicle following function, and Active Parking Assist with PARKTRONIC, make it seem like an achievable endeavor. They also proved in August 2013 autonomous driving is a closer reality than we may think when the close-to-production Mercedes-Benz S 500 INTELLIGENT DRIVE completed a 100km (62 mile) trip from Mannheim to Pforzheim fully autonomously. Mercedes-Benz is nothing if not nostalgic, as that happens to be the same route Bertha Benz traveled in 1888 on the first long distance drive ever done in an automobile.
It’s hard for me personally to wrap my head around not having to drive my car. I also wonder ultimately how safe it is to have a bunch of computers navigating the often clogged streets of Los Angeles. While I find the prospect of this technology quite exciting and intriguing, I also find it scary. As we develop more technology, and become more reliant on machines, we become complacent. Imagine a world where no one actually knew how to drive. Don’t get me wrong. Driving can be utterly painful, particularly when sitting at a dead stop on the 405. However, there is nothing more freeing than hitting the open road on a lazy Sunday afternoon and letting the horsepower rip. I feel sorry for the city-dwellers of the future who will likely never experience that feeling. Rather they will be stuck inside their autonomous car bubbles, furiously working away with all the valuable time they’ve saved by not having to drive and not taking the time to enjoy the ride. Is this sad or progress? I’ll let you, the reader, be the judge of that.