The four captain's chairs have built-in seat belts and soft leather cushioning. (Although the white leather's impracticality baffles me, as this car is definitely not self-cleaning.) The front seats turn to face the passengers. A touchscreen coffee table extends into the middle of the space with a quick tap, and even more touchscreens are built into the doors. Warm wood floors whisper of home.
Oh, you want to drive it? The steering wheel, accelerator and pedal are still there, though they fold away when you're not driving. The dashboard is a touchscreen, too, and you can control it using eye or hand movements. Eye movements weren't working when we demoed the car, but the gesture control worked pretty well: You have to learn where to hold your hand so the dashboard can sense it.
Outside the car, the F 015 combines sensors with lights and vocal cues to communicate directly with pedestrians and other drivers. If the F 015 sees a biped waiting to cross, for instance, it'll stop, beam a laser crosswalk onto the pavement, and tell him or her to "please go ahead." (How long until some rascals hack into this system and alter the phrases?)
That crosswalk gimmick isn't just noblesse oblige, either. Mercedes-Benz is trying to figure out how a self-driving car would interact with its environment: pedestrians, bicyclists, and other cars of course — which may or may not be self-driving.
The company set up a demo where Roomba-like rolling robots took on these different roles and performed activities such as parking, playing a lawn game, and crossing an intersection while studiously avoiding collisions with each other.
Our ride ended all too soon. I had just set up a panoramic view of verdant forests on the touchscreens. Our driver shooed us out, and used a smartphone app to send the F 015 to its parking space. Engineers checked it over carefully, while hungry cameras snapped at the car from behind.
My reluctance to leave the F 015 highlights the most intriguing idea about this concept car: It's designed for lingering. The comfy chairs, huge touchscreen vistas, and sociable seating intend to make your journey into something relaxing rather than arduous.
I don't like the idea that I'll need all this comfort because the future holds nothing but traffic jams and two-hour commutes. But I do like the idea that this car could save me from traffic's worst stresses, and that might be worth giving up some control.
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