• New mobility in San Francisco.

  • New mobility in San Francisco.

    • 13. May 2015
    • Autonomous Driving
    • Photos: Daimler
    • Text: Patrick Solberg

    On the road in the autonomously driving F 015 Luxury in Motion research vehicle with the windscreen at our backs. A road test report from the Golden Gate in California.

    The streets of San Francisco have seen a lot. Karl Malden and Michael Douglas fought crime on these streets in the ’70s and Steve McQueen celebrated the most spectacular car chase in film history on the hilly stretch by the bay. Admittedly, today’s pace is more leisurely, but no less exciting. Local residents, passers-by and hordes of tourists crane their necks when the Mercedes F 015 Luxury in Motion research vehicle makes a turn off Columbus Avenue or crosses Market Street in the heart of San Francisco. They pull out their mobile phones or cameras and almost forget about the approaching cable cars. This is not a shooting of a new Hollywood film or a spontaneous concert of the latest hip band – the visionary F 015 follows its course on the streets of the West Coast metropolis and the chance spectators freak out just as much as people did during its first official appearance at the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas early this year.

    ' The car will become a mobile living space. '


    Almost two years ago, a fully autonomously driving Mercedes S-Class retraced the legendary Bertha Benz route from Mannheim to Pforzheim. Vehicles of all categories have long been able to park automatically, keep a safe following distance and follow the vehicles ahead in a tailback. “Anyone who only thinks about the technology has not yet realised how autonomous driving will change our society. The car will grow beyond its role as a mere means of transport and will ultimately become a mobile living space”, says Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche.



    Peter Lehmann is the master of the F 015 Luxury in Motion future model at Mercedes. The vehicle is 5.22 metres long, weighs almost three tonnes and is packed with everything the people in charge at Daimler envision for the car of beyond tomorrow. Dark-haired Lehmann pushes a key on his smartphone and the mysteriously shimmering spaceship silently rolls out of the multi-storey car park. The wide-opening “saloon doors” provide a view of the gigantic interior with four individual seats and trendy lounge atmosphere. Warm wood tones, leather that is soft to the touch and lots of that personal space that is lacking in today’s cars. “The wheelbase is about one metre longer than on the Maybach”, says Lehmann and settles in the swivelling driver’s seat while the doors close without a sound. Even at second glance the interior still has the vibe of a future laboratory – bright, visionary and simply chic. It is a place to feel good in, but the predominance of the large displays and the narrow windows’ lack of importance take some getting used to at first. Gigantic flat screens in the door panels come to life and the spaceship starts to move. Slowly at first, then more swiftly before Lehmann starts the autonomous driving programme and turns around to face his fellow passengers. He unerringly operates the keys on the flat screen in his door panel, while the F 015 rolls towards the skyline of San Francisco at a speed of 60 km/h.


    In Europe, the wheels once more turn more slowly than in the USA. Although numerous test vehicles of the automobile manufacturers have also been travelling autonomously on Germany’s motorways for quite some time; the legal framework has so far made it difficult to transfer major advances to the production models. The US is pursuing the dream of autonomous driving more rigorously. It therefore comes as no surprise that some states in the land that equates mobility with freedom take a more accommodating approach. The network of American highways and interstates, at one point conceived as a copy of the German motorway network, has a significantly lighter density than in countries such as Germany, Austria or the Netherlands. The distances are greater, the speeds lower and the innovative drive sometimes boundless. Several US states – California, Nevada, Michigan and Florida – quickly agreed to create the legal framework for autonomous driving. However, large states such as Oregon, Arizona, Colorado or Texas are holding up the red card for now. In many other states, work is currently under way to permit autonomous driving in accordance with the appropriate guidelines.



    But today that is immaterial. While the Mercedes F 015 Luxury in Motion was driven manually on the bustling streets of San Francisco, it now has to demonstrate its capabilities in autonomous mode on the closed Naval Air Station Alameda on the east side of the bay. The shiny silver test vehicle is devoid of the expected radar sensors, cameras and laser technology, because it is intended rather as a general vision of where the automotive journey might take us in the next ten to 15 years. The Daimler development engineers are certain that it will be possible to make many trips fully autonomously by 2030. “The world will be turning even faster than today 15 years from now”, Mercedes designer Holger Hutzenlaub predicts, “we will be on the road more and time will become even more of a luxury item than it already is today”. It will be important to make more efficient use of this time than ever before and the car is to play a decisive role in this regard.

    ' Time will become a luxury item. '


    All that can be heard in the background while driving is a little bit of wind noise and an army of fans. “We have ten computers on board for the networked displays alone”, Lehmann explains, “and they need to be cooled“. Nevertheless, it is still warm in the interior of the F 015 despite a manageable 17 degrees outside. The drive system itself is whisper quiet. “In principle, the Mercedes F 015 is intended to be powered by a fuel cell. At the moment its rear axle is powered only by the electric motor with an output of 200 kW / 272 HP. But we can combine the motor with a fuel cell without a problem”, Lehmann adds, while the F 015 says goodbye to the skyline of San Francisco. The multi-million Euro research platform has a battery operating range of 200 kilometres. The imaginary fuel cell, which consumes 0.6 kilograms of hydrogen per 100 kilometres, would make another 900 kilometres possible.



    Not only pedestrians and passers-by are quite amazed. The up to four occupants, who bask in the comfort of the lounge chairs, can’t help but feel the same way when they first encounter the automotive future, which glides through the turmoil of daily life like a cocoon in a sea of traffic. The speed can be regulated with a virtual slide control in the door panel. The power over speed and destination can also be delegated to any other passenger in the individual seats. Numerous vehicle functions are not only controlled by touch-sensitive modules, but also by gestures and eye tracking. “People can use the actual drive time in a completely different way than before”, explains Mercedes designer Hutzenlaub, “everyone can decide personally how much of the virtual world to let into the car”. The oversized screens not only display the speed, navigation destination and route guidance instructions, they also show the current song title and the estimated time of arrival, complete with a list of jobs that still need to be done before then: three more calls need to be made during the remaining 23 minutes of our trip. After all, the Mercedes F 015 Luxury in Motion and its soft leather seats is not only meant to provide relaxation on the commute to work, but also to allow efficient use of the drive time itself. Telephone conferences, a virtual detour to wife and kids, or a film to clear the mind – all of this is no problem at all with the autonomous vehicle from Swabia.