The Mercedes-Benz F015 Luxury in Motion Concept is unlike any car you have ever seen. With styling that looks like it came straight out of RoboCop and an interior laced with expensive gadgetry, the F015 Luxury in Motion is one of the most futuristic concept vehicles ever produced.
The F015 is Mercedes’ vision for the future of motoring. And while the idea of self-driving cars may seem foreign to many, Mercedes-Benz is confident that some form of self-driving cars will be seen on roads within 20 to 30 years.
In order to show off their latest concept, Mercedes invited a host of journalists to Alameda Naval Station, where they had set up a semi-permanent camp to demonstrate the technology of the F015 Luxury in Motion Concept.
The silver-skinned F015 looks other-worldly as it glides to a stop in front of us. The car was summoned by Mercedes researcher Klaus Millerferli using a custom application on his iPhone. The F015, having been told by Klaus to expect four passengers, pauses for a moment before greeting us by silently opening all four doors.
Before entering, Klaus demonstrates one of the F015’s most interesting features – pedestrian tracking. The car, sensing that Klaus is standing near the front of the vehicle, projects a crosswalk on the ground and urges him to cross with a soothing voice prompt. As he crosses, the car uses its front and rear LED panels to provide a visual representation of his movement. The front and rear LED panels are meant to provide the outside world with an understanding of what the car is thinking, doing and seeing. For example, the rear LED panel will light up with words like “Slow” depending on traffic conditions. The “personality” displayed by the car is meant to help the car integrate into existing society.
The interior of the Mercedes-Benz F015 Luxury in Motion Concept is every bit as futurist as one would expect. Wooden floors give way to white leather lounge chairs. Each aluminium-wrapped chair moves independently of each other, allowing each passenger to swivel and adjust their seating position to their heart’s content.
Screens are aplenty inside the F015. High resolution 4K touch screens line the insides of both doors and the rear wall. The dashboard spans the length of the car and can be controlled either by gestures (very cool, by the way) or touch. Just as we begin to acclimate ourselves with the interior of the F015, Klaus spins his chair around, taps a button marked “Go” on the touchscreen closest to him and we set off.
The F015 is not meant to be a quick car. That being said, Mercedes-Benz claims the car will reach a top speed of 124 mph. Our journey, however, was much more docile. As we begin along our preprogrammed route, Klaus demonstrates various features of the touchscreens. The screens can be used for basic functions such as navigation and audio. They can also be used to display background scenery that syncs up to the speed of the car. So, say you were on the highway and wanted to feel like you were driving through a futuristic cityscape, simply choose that option from the touchscreen and enjoy the view.
Halfway through the journey, Klaus offers me control of the car. Interestingly, any passenger can control the speed of the car from the screen next to their seat (if the driver allows it). Speed can be controlled by a slider which works in a similar fashion to the volume slider on your iPhone. Passengers can choose between two extremes – “relaxed” and “dynamic”. At Klaus’s urging, I increase our speed to the fastest, “dynamic” setting. Surprisingly, the sensation feels no different to being driven by a chauffeur or flying in a modern jetliner.
As we move along, blue particles dance around the interior screens. Questioning their function, I was told that these are an abstract representation of objects outside the car. According to Vera Schmidt, UI designer for Mercedes-Benz, the blue particles are meant to reduce the dissonance between what occupants experience inside the car and what is happening outside. They also have the added benefit of reducing motion sickness.
Our three-lap ride culminates in a photo session at the end of Alameda’s disused runway before climbing back aboard for the autonomous trip back to camp.
The technology showcased in the F015 Luxury in Motion Concept is something straight out of a sci-fi blockbuster. In fact, the technology and sensors are so sensitive that we were reminded, given the F015’s current stage of development, that conditions such as rain or high heat can adversely affect the cars hi-tech sensors.
Even so, Mercedes feels the F015 is a highly realistic view of the future. With the F015, Mercedes is not looking to the next four or five years but to the next 15. While self-driving cars may still be decades away, a few Mercedes engineers admitted over dinner that some of the technology from the F015 will find its way into the next generation S-Class. Due to government regulations it isn’t likely that the next-gen S-Class will be fully automated, but it will be close.
Mercedes-Benz is investing heavily in self-driving technology. And with other manufacturers beginning to take similar interest, self-driving cars may not be as far off as we think.
The future of motoring is coming soon to a highway near you.