The Mercedes-Benz F 015 looks so out-of-this-world amazing, even people who can't stand the idea of a self-driving car might still be willing to ride in it.
And that's exactly what I did on Tuesday — not on city streets, but within the controlled environment of a former naval base. Other journalists and I chatted in the space-age cabin while the car drove. We skimmed music choices on integrated touchscreens that lined the walls — while the car drove. I waved at the dashboard to adjust the air conditioning. The F 015 drove.
First unveiled at CES, the F 015 is just a concept car. It may never become a retail product, and its engineers caution that some of its capabilities are many years away from reality. Still, it takes self-driving cars beyond Google's LiDAR-studded experiments, and reconsiders how the most cutting-edge auto tech could change people's lives.
Why this matters: Self-driving cars may be coming in 2020, but we're nowhere near figuring out how to incorporate them into our everyday world. We don't know how much to trust them with the thousands of split-second decisions that driving requires. We don't how to behave as passengers or pedestrians. And, honestly, some of us just don't want to give up control.
So think of the F 015 an ambassador for autonomous driving. It inspires people to think about all these issues simply because they're excited about the car.
Going beyond Google
Google's experimental self-driving cars, with their whirling roof-mounted LiDARS, have turned heads on San Francisco Bay Area roads for several years. In 2014, the company unveiled a more radical, bug-shaped design that had no steering wheel or brakes, and embodied a utopian vision of giving mobility back to blind men and senior citizens.
The F 015 looks a lot less quirky than the Google cars, but it's more than an aesthetic step up: It's designed under the assumption that we'll be spending more time in our cars in the future. "Life will be more hectic," explained Koert Groeneveld of Mercedes-Benz. As megacities rise, getting around a denser urban environment will take longer and be more difficult. "Private space and time will become luxury commodities," Groeneveld predicted. A self-driving car like the F 015 would let people use the time in traffic for other activities.
That's why the F 015 looks like a lounge on wheels. Mercedes-Benz wants you to relax while the car handles the logistics. The company designed it with an unusually long wheelbase of 3.6 meters (about 11.8 feet) to allow for plenty of cabin room, as well as a more comfortable ride. Even the saloon doors offer a wide, welcoming embrace as you enter the car.
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