Looking more like something that’s rolled off the set of a science fiction film than anything on the road today, the Mercedes-Benz F 015 Luxury in Motion concept car is intended to give us a glimpse of a very different future.
Powered by a pair of electric motors, the autonomous prototype making its debut at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is designed to show how tomorrow’s cars could be cleaner, safer – and transform themselves into living rooms on wheels.
Measuring just an inch shorter than today’s Mercedes-Benz S-Class, and riding on a platform with a wheelbase nearly as long as a full-size pickup, the bubble-shaped F 015 is intended to be a “forerunner of a mobility revolution,” the maker suggests.
“Anyone who focuses solely on the technology has not yet grasped how autonomous driving will change our society,” explains 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.”
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The distinctive exterior provides a wraparound greenhouse, but those inside can project their own scenery using virtual display technology if they don’t like the view they have. The F 015 uses doors that open a full 90 degrees – with no B-pillar in the way – to provide easy access. And the lounge-style seats swivel around so passengers can face one another when the vehicle is operating in autonomous mode.
As might be expected of a Mercedes, the cabin is finished luxuriously, with open-poor walnut veneers and contrasting ice white napa leather.
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The Luxury in Motion concept can be operated by a human driver, but it is loaded with cameras, radar and other sensors to instantly switch to self-driving mode. Indeed, Mercedes says it envisions a time when some cities might require vehicles to operate autonomously.
Some are already placing limits on the use of conventional, internal combustion engines, and others are expected to follow. So, the F 015 is powered by two rear-mounted electric motors that produce 163 horsepower under normal conditions. Power is generated by a hydrogen fuel-cell system, but an advanced battery can briefly bump power to 272 hp, enough to launch the F 015 from 0 to 100 mph (0 to 62.5 kmh) in 6.7 seconds.
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To improve performance and fuel economy, the F 015 uses a mix of lightweight carbon fiber, aluminum and high-strength steel alloys. The maker claims the bodyshell itself is about 40% lighter than one used for a comparably sized vehicle today.
One of the more unusual safety features built into the concept car is a Pre-Safe structure that include inflatable body elements that operate similarly to an airbag in the event of a side-impact collision.
Along with the technology needed for the autonomous driving system, the Luxury in Motion concept comes with an advanced infotainment system linked to the outside world, letting occupants work or play as they might at home or in the office.
“Passengers can interact intuitively with the connected vehicle through gestures, eye-tracking or by touching the high-resolution screens,” Mercedes notes.
And rather than having to locate a parking spot when reaching a destination, the F 015 would be able to drop its passengers off and then go find a place to park on its home, automatically returning when summoned by a smartphone or some other device.
Even the vehicle’s exterior lighting stretches beyond today’s basics. The concept car includes LED displays that indicate whether the F 015 is being driven manually or autonomously.
While the F 015 concept isn’t likely to see production, Mercedes suggests it offers a glimpse of where the industry is heading as autonomous driving technology evolves from science fantasy to everyday reality. The maker is one of the first to receive license to test self-driving vehicles on California roads.
Autonomous technology is one of the hot topics at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, with makers such as Ford, BMW and Audi showcasing their own developments. Semi-autonomous vehicles are widely expected to reach showrooms before 2020, while fully autonomous models could be ready to roll by early in the next decade.