The four-seat luxury vehicle unveiled in Las Vegas at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show joins the soon-to-be-produced S500 Intelligent Drive and futuristic Actros 1845 truck in Benz’s stable of semi- and fully autonomous prototypes. It combines the attributes of a traditional luxury vehicle with the technology needed to survive what Mercedes envisions as the over-crowded urban landscapes of the year 2030 and beyond.
“The Luxury in Motion is for the individual who wants to retreat to a private place, relieving themselves of the stress and work involved with driving in the ever more hostile urban environment where driving is not enjoyable,” says Dieter Zetsche, chairman of Daimler and head of Mercedes cars.
The F015’s chassis combines carbon-fiber reinforced plastic, aluminum and high-strength steel into a body shell that weighs 40 percent less than today’s production vehicles. Mercedes claims no sacrifices to safety, despite a saloon-style door system that allows the doors to be opened up to 90 degrees without a center pillar.
The most dramatic demonstration of how much Mercedes believes autonomous vehicles will change society comes lies with the F015’s seats. There are four captain’s chair-like rotating “lounge” chairs that can swivel into a face-to-face configuration.
When needed, the driver’s chair swivels to face forward, and a white, leather-wrapped steering wheel slides out of the instrument panel. The electrically powered seats also swing outwards by 30 degrees as soon as the doors open for ease of exit and entry.
Communication between the car, its driver, pedestrians and other cars on the road is a key element of this car. The car builds a picture of the outside world for navigation through a system of optical, radar and other sensors that read the environment.
Meanwhile, the vehicle’s internal connectivity downloads traffic data and other things taking place beyond the reach of the car’s sensors from the cloud.
The continuous flow of information is managed in the vehicle by a series of six displays, mounted in the dash, sidewalls and rear of car. Passengers are able to communicate with the vehicle via gestures, eye-movement or actually touching the screens.
Because the car can be controlled from any of the touchscreens, "any passenger can become the driver," said Zetsche.
The intelligent vehicle can also warn other road users of potential hazards, for example, provide early information on certain traffic situations. It has large communication displays at the front and rear of the car with LED panels.
By changing the color of its head LEDs, the car can indicate whether it’s driving or the human in his lounge chair is. If the F015 detects a pedestrian at the roadside, undulating light signals appear in the LED grille to let the pedestrian know that the vehicle has seen them.
Should that pedestrian enter the roadway the F015 halts and scans its surroundings to check whether it is safe to do so. If it is, the car uses a high-precision laser system to project a virtual cross walk onto the road surface and speaks “Please go ahead.” (Hopefully using William Daniels’ voice.)
While little information was provided about the F015’s propulsion system, the automaker did say that it would be powered by an electric drive system based on the hydrogen plug-in hybrid technology used in the F125 Research vehicle. A pair of electric motors (one at each front wheel) provide propulsion, drawing electricity from a fuel-cell stack, hydrogen tank and lithium sulfate battery pack.
Fifteen years ago, carbon-fiber cars and fuel cells were either lab experiments or expensive, handbuilt luxuries; today, they’re technologies filtering into the mainstream. The tech in the F015 looks somewhat sci-fi, but given that today’s Mercedes can manage parking and freeway driving without human input, 2030 doesn’t look so far away.