The more innovative the applications are, the more flexible the processes need to be. Peter Lehmann explains this using the example of the seating configuration for the F 015, with its revolving lounge chairs that very graphically illustrate the vision of autonomous driving: Designing these central elements of the vehicle’s interior was not merely a technical challenge but also required an innovative use of the space and its effect on the passengers. Developers had previously grappled with exploring new concepts of automotive space, where the driver’s seat becomes part of the seating group, while working on earlier research vehicles, but never as thoroughly as for the F 015.
CARL BENZ AND GOTTLIEB DAIMLER MUST NOT HAVE CHOSEN A DIFFERENT APPROACH
The production of the electronic and electromechanical systems for research vehicles also differs radically from series production: While the cockpit, seats and other elements for line-produced passenger cars are supplied preassembled, Lehmann and his team put together all mechanical components inside the vehicle from scratch. Everything from seats to communication systems takes shape gradually, one piece at a time. After assembly, each step is carefully checked, and corrected if there are any doubts. Carl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler probably worked in much the same way when they created the world’s first ever motor cars back in 1886.
Once the control units, screens, sensors, lights, mechanics and all the other systems are running smoothly, does it mean are we now looking at the finished research vehicle? “Not at all,” laughs Peter Lehmann, “at that point the interior of the car still looks very much under construction”. The reason is quite prosaic: In order to ensure an efficient workflow, it makes no sense to finalize the interior surfaces before all of the functionality is stabilized.
In particular, this concerns the integration of the electronic systems, many of which originate from communication or consumer electronics. “For one thing, we need to check every component to ensure that it meets the demanding requirements for automotive use,” explains Peter Lehmann. “For example, a display in our research vehicle must be able to function perfectly at minus 20 degrees Celsius – and it must be possible to install it pre-toughened.” At the same time, they need to take account of the very short innovation cycles in consumer electronics, compared to those of the automotive sector. The resolution, format and brilliance of the interactive displays used in the F 015 were upgraded several times while the team was working on the vehicle. The sensory system of the research vehicle used in the gesture, touch and voice control of its systems also improved during that period.
Due to these dynamics, Lehmann concludes, the final designs of all components were only finished six months before completion – and by no means all of the parts had been produced by then. However, he says it is typical when building research vehicles that the project reaches the high level desired in every individual detail only at the very end.