Detroit Motor Show: Mercedes builds a time machine

STEVEN Spielberg’s Back to the Future II may’ve missed out on a few predictions for 2015, but in the year of the trilogy’s second instalment, the autonomous Mercedes F015 has shown the car maker’s vision of the road ahead.

Unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas and set for the Mercedes Mantelpiece at the Detroit Motor Show, this is not your usual autonomous car, but a fully developed, working concept that explores some of the possibilities opened up by not needing a driver to be permanently fixed behind the steering wheel.

That sleek, silver cockroach-shaped body is made of lightweight but tough carbonfibre-reinforced plastic (CFRP) and aluminium stretched over a sprawling 3610mm wheelbase – a whopping 445mm more than the long-wheelbase S-Class’. You could almost live in this thing. And that’s the point.

This car represents the paradigm shift from drive-centric interiors to more flexible cabins as the potential for autonomous cars is explored. That means the F015’s inside is its most intriguing element as Mercedes attempts to define what luxury will mean for a driverless car.

The interior is hinged around the idea that perceptions of luxury are not fixed. “The luxury values of the future are changing. [In the future] Most people will have enough money to live well,” says the head of Mercedes' Advanced Design Studio, Michele Jauch Paganetti. “[So it’s not solely about] money, money money, but ‘I want to have time’”. Therefore, the F015 is all about the quality of its occupant’s life as the ‘third place’ after the home and workplace.

“Gaining time is the concept of this interior, of this car,” Paganetti says. With soft shapes, from the seat to the way the walls meld into the floor and roof, he describes the double-cell cabin as like an, “Egg within an egg”.

It boasts four separate seats, and while the driver has the choice of driving the car in the current sense, he/she can switch to autonomous mode and turn their chair 180-degrees away from the front windscreen when the F015 is driving itself. “If you’re spending a lot of time in the car, you don’t want to stay just behind the steering wheel where you can only listen to the radio and make some telephone calls,” says Paganetti. 

From the swivel chairs, the cabin becomes a digital playground that’s customisable and connected, more like a room than a car interior. Swipe and gesture controls allow ooccupants to interact with the multiple digital displays (think Minority Report meets Mercedes)while the dash itself is entirely digital. There are customisable hues, touchscreen tablet console tops and of course the obligatory Internet connection. “Surrounding you is the digital world. Everything is a communication between then outside and the inside,” adds Paganetti, “but you can also close this information flow.”

The philosophy behind the F015's development is backed from the top down, with Mercedes boss Dr Dieter Zetsche saying, “Anyone who focuses solely on the technology has not yet grasped how autonomous driving will change society.” This is merely the start of conceptualising the motor car for the 21st century and doesn't seem so whacky. Say goodbye to boring road trips. 

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