• Revolutionary perception of space.

  • Revolutionary perception of space.

    • 6. January 2015
    • Autonomous Driving
    • Photos: Daimler
    • Text: Rüdiger Abele

    The autonomously driving F 015 Luxury in Motion research vehicle provides an outlook on the Mercedes-Benz vision of individual mobility in the “city of 2030+”.

    Driving a car is essentially about freedom: Start the engine and drive off. Whatever the reason – and wherever you want. No other technical invention has given people the same feeling of independence, and the ability to cover long distances in a short time.

    ' The car of the future will reinvent the space on wheels. '

    ALEXANDER MANKOWSKY

    A PRIVATE LIVING ENVIRONMENT IN WHICH WE SPEND A LOT OF TIME

    “Space is a multi-layered term when used in connection with the automobile. For example, it describes how man is able to perceive the environment, cover distances and measure elapsed time. At the same time the car itself is a space on wheels, and often a private living environment in which we spend a lot of time,” says Alexander Mankowsky, a future researcher at Daimler. “This means that the aspect of space is always important in a research vehicle as well. The F 015 Luxury in Motion places an emphasis on this aspect.” Ultimately, the aim is to provide an outlook on future series-production vehicles – and with respect to space these are anyway becoming more perfect and pleasant to use with every new vehicle generation. So how is even more progress possible?

    “Quite simply, with the car of the future,” says Mankowsky. Because it will reinvent the space on wheels, so to speak. One precondition for this is a central technology of future cars – autonomous driving.”

    1

    INTERIOR WITH A LOUNGE-LIKE ATMOSPHERE

    So take a seat in the future, in the Mercedes-Benz F 015 Luxury in Motion research vehicle. It gives answers to mobility questions arising in the still far-off year “2030+”, when autonomous driving has long become commonplace. Let us take as an example a family of four travelling to visit relatives. The “saloon doors” swing open widely – all to a maximum of 90 degrees – giving access to an extraordinary interior. A lounge-like interior is revealed, for the F 015 Luxury in Motion is generously spacious and has a comfortable, homely ambience. Sensuous, flowing transitions and warm organic materials such as open-pored burr walnut with contoured veneer and extremely soft, light nappa leather contrast with clearly defined high-tech metal and glass surfaces. The centrepiece of the innovative interior concept is the variable seating system with four pivoting lounge chairs allowing an opposed configuration. This means that during a journey, the front occupants are able to communicate face-to-face with other occupants or face the front when required – as a condition for manual driving. When the doors are opened, the chairs welcome the occupants by pivoting outwards slightly: getting in is very easy and convenient, then the seats pivot back into the travelling position. The doors gently close and the interior envelops the occupants. The journey can begin.

    The F 015 Luxury in Motion is generously spacious and has a comfortable, homely ambience.

    SEAT GENTLY ROTATES TO THE REAR BY 180 DEGREES

    The drive system is started, an F-CELL PLUG-IN HYBRID. Seated front left, the father presses a button to activate autonomous driving mode: The F 015 checks all the systems, glides towards the exit and activates the turn signal to join the highway. The car briefly stops to wait for a suitable gap in the traffic, then automatically steers the car into its lane and accelerates to town speed. The man smiles contentedly as the high-end sedan glides along quietly and comfortably. He operates a button on the seat. The seat swivels gently round by 180 degrees to face the rear, so he can now join in with family activities.

    THE AUTOMOBILE BECOMES A PLACE OF RETREAT

    “Autonomous driving is one of the greatest innovations since the invention of the automobile,” says Thomas Weber, the member of the Daimler Board of Management responsible for corporate research and development at Mercedes-Benz Cars. “The driver’s workload is relieved in situations where driving is tedious rather than enjoyable, and the time gained takes on a completely new quality – thanks to the freedom to do other things than steering, accelerating and braking during a journey.” And Herbert Kohler, Head of corporate research and sustainability at Daimler, adds this: “In a world characterized by restricted space and hectic activity, people have an increasing desire for privacy and individuality. The automobile becomes a place of retreat. Autonomous driving opens up this space with the freedom to make entirely personal use of the time spent travelling.”

    2

    The visionary F 015 Luxury in Motion research vehicle reflects these requirements in every detail. “It has the exterior dimensions of a 2014 S-Class,” says Holger Hutzenlaub, head of the Mercedes-Benz Advanced Design Studio in Germany. At the same time this defines the standard with respect to ride comfort, refinement and interior appointments: it has the best of everything on board. The body design, interior concept and layout are fully projected into the future – as is all the technology of course.”

    New technologies and forms of communication open up numerous unheard-of possibilities for interaction: between the vehicle and its occupants, and between the vehicle and other road users. The relationship between man and machine allows the vehicle to take over tasks which the driver cannot or chooses not to perform personally, for example obtaining a continuous 360-degree all-round view. However it is the human who decides how fast the vehicle is to travel, and which route is the most attractive.

    3

    VEHICLE COMMUNICATES WITH THE OUTSIDE WORLD USING LED MODULES

    The exterior has a monolithic appearance. With flush-fitted side windows bearing a fine matrix pattern, it appears to have been cast from a single mould. Large LED lighting modules at the front and rear ends enable various light functions to be activated. At the same time the vehicle uses them to communicate and interact with the outside world.

    The display informs pedestrians that the F 015 has “seen” them, for example. Following traffic is given a warning depending on the traffic situation. “Shared space” is the name given to this concept of harmonious coexistence, which has already given rise to entire areas without road signs in some cities of the world – the road users themselves regulate the traffic flows for the benefit of all, and it works astonishingly smoothly and safely.

    The F 015 is configured for this. A QR code replaces the registration plate, making information about the vehicle accessible to the outside world. This together with the slim, striking light band at the rear turns the vehicle into a “communication centre” on wheels.

    ENTIRE WINDSCREEN AREA AS A PROJECTION SURFACE

    A look into the interior: Rather than a dashboard, a brilliant expanse of screen extends across the entire width of the vehicle at the front. This is supported by head-up technology, which uses practically the entire windscreen area as a projection surface. As a result, when the seats are facing the direction of travel, a great deal of information is projected onto the windscreen in what is known as augmented reality. Naturally there are no longer any navigation instructions telling the driver where to turn off, as the car does this automatically. Nor is there any parking information – the car looks for a space and parks itself. The displays show information from the surroundings – for example whether friends or acquaintances are also on the road in the vicinity, and have perhaps sent messages suggesting a good place to stop for a break. Or a display will give confirmation that the hot drinks automatically ordered at the start of the journey from a favourite drive-in café will be ready precisely as the car turns into the driveway.

    CONTINUOUS EXCHANGE OF INFORMATION BETWEEN THE VEHICLE, PEDESTRIANS AND THE OUTSIDE WORLD

    One of the central ideas in the research vehicle is a continuous exchange of information between the vehicle, its occupants and the outside world. This is implemented by means of six all-round displays harmoniously integrated into the dashboard, side walls and rear wall, making the interior an interactive, digital space – a perfect symbiosis of the virtual and real world. “In the F 015, augmented reality is combined with an innovative operating concept using eye-direction and gesture recognition: Cameras follow the movements of the pupils and recognize where the occupants are looking – and the multimedia computer starts processing the appropriate monitor content,” says Peter Lehmann, department manager for research vehicles at Daimler and F 015 project manager, as he explains some of the extensive technology. The occupants can intuitively interact with the networked vehicle using gestures or by touching the high-resolution monitors. “Sensors recognize the occupants’ hands and provide conveniently accessible user interfaces with control options suited to the situation.”

    MOST VEHICLES ON THE FREEWAYS WILL DRIVE AUTONOMOUSLY

    “All these features allow travel within a perfect mobile space, but interaction with the world outside can be initiated very easily and at any time. Detailed information about what is seen outside the car windows can for example be brought into the interior and shown on-screen with a hand gesture. Inside the car, a swiping gesture can be used to transfer screen content from one monitor to another – very easily and above all intuitively,” Lehmann explains. The vehicle, its multimedia systems and all applications and contents can be remotely preconfigured using an app. The F 015 can be commanded to park itself, for example – and it can even be sent to a specific location to collect the user or other people.

    4

    Back to the journey of the future. The sedan carrying the family exits from the dense flow of city traffic and enters the driveway of a drive-in café. Four steaming hot drinks are ready, and the family take them on board. A signal is enough for the F 015 to continue its autonomous journey and automatically rejoin the traffic on the highway. The family resume their activities, having rediscovered an old pastime: board games. There is one laid out on the table in the middle of the car, and all four of them enjoy another round.

    The fine art of extremely comfortable travel.

    OVERTAKING IS A MATTER OF COURSE

    The car speeds along serenely – accelerating, braking and steering are smooth and automatic, the fine art of extremely comfortable travel. The F 015 has reached the freeway entrance ramp, picks up speed and joins the flow of traffic. The traffic is flowing smoothly, as most of the vehicles are driving autonomously – comfortably and safely. Overtaking manoeuvres are of course also provided for in the control algorithms of the onboard systems. When the luxury sedan recognizes an adequate gap in the traffic, it activates the turn signals, pulls out, briskly overtakes a truck and then returns to its lane. The all-round sensor systems are constantly active to monitor the other traffic – more precisely than any human, and without becoming fatigued.

    “A scenario like this is still unfamiliar and strange to us at present,” says Alexander Mankowsky. “Another purpose behind the F 015 Luxury in Motion becomes clear: It not only familiarizes us with the sophisticated technology involved, but also with the mobility of the future – and with the possibilities opened up by autonomous driving.”

    THE FAMILY ARE ABSORBED IN THE BOARD GAME

    The family devotes its full attention to the board game. Soft music can be heard from the loudspeakers. The son has chosen a stream of current hits, which are brought into the car by a mobile internet connection. Accompanied by the clicks of the dice and the movement of the pieces on the board: A pleasant family get-together. All while the car is moving at 150 km/h.

    5

    It approaches the desired freeway exit, turns off and takes a country road. The scenery changes to delightful nature. The family are still absorbed in their board game. They do not notice that, although the F 015 is gliding along at a brisk pace, it is being overtaken by a Mercedes-Benz sports car which likewise has an F-CELL PLUG-IN HYBRID drive system. The driver behind the wheel is on a pleasure tour, making the most of the winding country roads – but in the classic way, with an attentive human in full control. The family in the F 015 Luxury in Motion calmly finishes the board game – the daughter is the winner. Shortly afterwards, the sedan rolls to a stop and a melodious sound sequence tells the family that they have reached their destination.

     

    TAKING OVER CONTROL IS POSSIBLE AT ANY TIME

    In the sum of all its attributes, the F 015 Luxury in Motion research vehicle provides a more comprehensive look into the future. “Autonomous Driving is one of its central technologies, resulting for example in a different use of space and a corresponding level of all-round comfort,” says Holger Hutzenlaub. Yet Mercedes-Benz sees Autonomous Driving as just one function amongst all the assistance systems: a function that can be activated whenever the driver wishes to make different use of the time spent travelling. Naturally the driver can take full control at any time by deactivating the system. Comfort and convenience are therefore combined with utility in a completely new way.

    A vision that is still far off? Most certainly. It will be a long time before autonomous driving becomes possible in the comprehensive form described in our scenario. It is still necessary, for example, to resolve various complex technical questions, produce extremely precise digital maps and overcome legislative hurdles. But step by step, autonomous driving can be turned into reality – supplementing systems that are already in day-to-day use now, such as DISTRONIC PLUS with Steering Assist or PARKTRONIC including parking guidance. Autonomous driving is already a part of these and other systems – all embedded in the Mercedes-Benz vision of accident-free driving. Which in its turn is coming closer to reality, thanks to advances in technology.

    The F 015 Luxury in Motion is therefore a mobile research laboratory. Including its design: What might the interior and exterior of a luxury sedan of the future look like when technology allows a different use of space? The F 015 Luxury in Motion gives possible answers. In doing so it follows the tradition of all the brand’s research vehicles, which have always incorporated futuristic features while exploring future scenarios that could become possible through their use. Each of them reflects a central focus: The large luxury sedan as a key expertise of Mercedes-Benz. For example the F 500 Mind of 2003, which featured a variable door concept. Or the F 700 of 2007, with its flexible interior. As a continuation of this tradition the F 015 Luxury in Motion might be seen as the next model series, so to speak – an evolution from generation to generation.

    6

    THE F 015 LUXURY IN MOTION – THE FUTURE OF AUTONOMOUS DRIVING

    Autonomous driving as standard: The Mercedes-Benz F 015 Luxury in Motion research vehicle is a part of this future. All its attributes are designed for that. The F 015 Luxury in Motion becomes something of a terrestrial space capsule that moves of its own accord.

     

    Its inner values entirely benefit the occupants. Because if nobody on board needs to drive the car (and the associated technology is no longer needed), there is freedom of action in many respects. The occupants are able to suit themselves completely, and pursue any activity they desire. Numerous discreetly positioned touchscreens, gesture control, augmented reality, data connection – the F 015 Luxury in Motion is totally immersed in the digital age. Not as an end in itself, however, but almost as a precondition for autonomous driving.

    Innovative control technology enables the F 015 to master any traffic situation, including more complex scenarios.

    Innovative control technology enables the F 015 to master any traffic situation, including more complex scenarios. Setting off, joining the traffic flow, keeping a safe distance, steering, braking, overtaking – the F 015 performs these tasks flawlessly. The F 015 will even park itself without human intervention.

     

    However, if a person does wish to drive the F 015 Luxury in Motion, this is of course possible. There is complete freedom of choice – and freedom of action as an important attribute of the research vehicle.

     

    Naturally the drive concept is just as future-oriented. The F 015 Luxury in Motion is an electric car with an F-CELL PLUG-IN HYBRID drive system. A fuel cell stack converts hydrogen into electrical energy – with water vapor as the only emission. The total operating range of the electric hybrid system is 1100 kilometres. Around 200 kilometres can be covered under battery power, and around 900 kilometres with power from the fuel cell.

     

    For autonomous driving the F 015 incorporates all the know-how and experience that Mercedes-Benz has already gained, for example from the S 500 INTELLIGENT DRIVE presented in 2013. And much more besides. Sensors work together with extensive computer technology e.g. to establish the vehicle’s precise location, recognize the surroundings and initiate the relevant driving manoeuvres using the onboard control systems. From today’s standpoint it appears almost magical to be on the road in such a space capsule. In the future it will probably be a perfectly normal functionality.

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