At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Mercedes-Benz unveiled its latest take on autonomous driving and in addition to really pushing the envelope with the possibilities of technology, it is also forwarding the debate of whether autonomous driving will improve or hinder safety.
One of the concerns with autonomous cars is that it will lead to more crashes due to driver inattentiveness. Take the ability to react to emergencies out of the driving equation and there will be more damage.
The counter argument is that the major cause in most crashes is human error. Take the driver out of the reaction equation and let the technology perform its tasks and there will be fewer crashes.
The Mercedes-Benz F 015 Luxury in Motion pushes the idea that the car will evolve into more than a transportation mode to become a private space in which people can maximize their time — mankind’s only non-renewable resource.
Just about all manufacturers agree that autonomous driving of some sort will be a given in the not too distant future, so Mercedes set about the task of maximizing vehicle occupants’ time while being driven around, rather than having a passenger who must also be exposed to the tediousness of watching a vehicle drive itself.
“Anyone who focuses solely on the technology has not yet grasped how autonomous driving will change our society,” explained Dr Dieter Zetsche, Chairman of the Board of Management of Daimler AG and Head of Mercedes-Benz Cars. “The car is growing beyond its role as a mere means of transport and will ultimately become a mobile living space.”
The seamless exterior presentation of the four-seat F015 makes it immediately apparent that it is more a mobile cubby than a traditional car. In fact, the only obvious cues to its being a vehicle are the four wheels (arranged in the now traditional cab-forward design that maximizes cabin space at the cost of mechanical or storage space, front and rear). Otherwise, it could be modernistic storage compartment of some sort.
The bodyshell itself is made from a combination carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic, aluminum and high-strength steels, resulting in its being 40 percent lighter than today’s production vehicles. The four doors operate independently of each other and can open to 90 degrees for easy access to the interior.
A range of different lighting functions can be provided through the exterior LED light arrays. In order to provide information to its surroundings, the lights shine blue when the car is being driven autonomously or white when it is being manually controlled.
And befitting the Mercedes-Benz “F” designation, the F015 is a fuel-cell vehicle, using hydrogen and electric motors for propulsion. A compact on-board high-voltage battery can be plugged in to charge when the vehicle is not being used.
Inside, occupants are treated to a variety of seating and infotainment options in a warm-and-cool environment composed of natural materials (walnut wood and soft white leather) and clearly-defined glass and metals.
The high-backed seats mimic both lounge chairs and racing seats, and can swivel to face the other occupants as desired. The front ones rotate 180 degrees to face front as required for driver intervention (with the steering wheel automatically retracting and extending as needed), and in order to make entry and exit easier, the seats also swing out 30 degrees when the side doors open.
The F015 is continuously connected with the outside world, with information flowing through six display screens integrated into interior panels. Control over the displays is handled through touch points, hand gestures and eye-tracking. Sensors recognize occupants’ hands and offer up operating options within easy reach.