This is a great 2 weeks. We’ve just enjoyed the holidays. Florida State lost; although Ohio State won. There’s a Formula E Prix on January 10th. The NFL playoffs are underway. The North American International Auto Show starts next week, and the Consumer Electronics Show is in full swing right now. From an automotive technology point of view, these are heady days as well. Thanks to keen automotive engineering and marketing, hybrid and electric car technology is successfully engaging and vaporizing conventional wisdom about economy, styling, and function. Fuel cell is coming to market in a logical way. On the fleet side, we are seeing appreciable gains in the use of alternative fuels that extend the life and utility of trucks, vans, and heavy-duty vehicles.
The rise of the smartphone is revolutionizing in-car entertainment. The establishment of millions of app development companies are now driving automakers to keep up with finding new ways to connect cars to smartphones and their owners. This new app development community is helping to revolutionize insurance, security, and fleet. Automotive engineers are also pushing out new ideas like detailed heads-up displays, the driverless car, or more likely, the assisted driving car.
Which brings us to the big reveal by Mercedes Benz that happened on January 6th. The company introduced the F 015 Luxury in Motion concept at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show. The car is part of their vision of driving in 2030. You could assume that by holding the reveal there, Mercedes is making a statement about integrating consumer technology into their vehicles. You’d be wrong.
Mercedes is making a statement about…luxury; something you’d expect from Mercedes-Benz.
“The single most important luxury goods of the 21st century are private space and time,” says Dr Dieter Zetsche, Chairman of Daimler AG and Head of Mercedes-Benz Cars. “Autonomously driving cars by Mercedes-Benz shall offer exactly that. With the F 015 Luxury in Motion, this revolutionary concept of mobility becomes tangible for the first time.”
Between assisted driving (or “autonomous” as they call it) and re-thinking the interior when drivers have the choice to drive or be driven, Mercedes believes Benz owners will embrace the opportunity to do more with time spent in a car. Check out some of the accoutrements:
The pivotal feature of the innovative interior concept is the variable seating system, with four rotating lounge chairs that allow a face-to-face seat configuration. All four passengers can use their time aboard to work, to relax or to communicate. In order to make getting in and out of the car easier, the electrically powered seats also swing outwards by 30 degrees as soon as the doors are opened.
One key aspect of the research vehicle is the continuous exchange of information between vehicle, passengers and the outside world. This is facilitated by six display screens harmoniously integrated into the instrument panel and the rear and side panels, which turn the interior of the F 015 Luxury in Motion into a digital arena. Passengers can interact intuitively with the connected vehicle through gestures, eye-tracking or by touching the high-resolution screens. Employing laser projection and LED displays, the electrically propelled F 015 Luxury in Motion establishes contact to the outside world and is a real social partner in traffic.
To me, allowing the driver to choose between manual and autonomous control is the most forward-thinking aspect of the car. We were all like “oooooh” when the Google Self-driving Car went public. But we temporarily forgot about the idiots who drive around us. As I’ve asked previously, are you gonna strap your family into a self-driving car when the other people around you are left to their regular driving shenanigans? People swooping across 2 lanes to pass? Others driving 80 in the right lane?
Right now there are too many morons out there for me to leave my fate to a computer.
Which makes the option to choose so brilliant. Here’s Prof Dr Thomas Weber, Member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG responsible for Group Research and Mercedes-Benz Cars Development, and Prof Dr Herbert Kohler, Head of Group Research & Sustainability and Chief Environmental Officer for Daimler AG with more on driving in 2030:
Prof Dr Herbert Kohler: Our future scenario looks ahead to the years 2030+. Urbanisation will continue to advance – this is a clearly foreseeable trend worldwide. The little space there is in our cities today will become increasingly scarce. One quite important thing to note in this regard: autonomous driving will be accepted by society as part of day-to-day mobility. This will entail both technical and social changes.
So while you’re jammed up in traffic, you can chill. Once traffic breaks up and you need to speed up and pay attention, you take control again. If you live in the sticks, you go back to autonomous for the last leg on the back roads. They also envision cars not only connecting with drivers, but with other cars as well:
Kohler: The intelligent vehicle can warn other road users of potential hazards, for example, or provide early information on certain traffic situations, thereby having a positive impact on traffic conditions. Communication and interaction are key to generating this added value.
Prof Dr Thomas Weber: It’s already reality today, using Live Traffic Information, for instance, or the automatic emergency call. And actually, it’s not really new at all: even when the indicators are switched on, the driver, or rather the car, is communicating with its surroundings. The F 015 is capable of far more, though. It has large communication displays at the front and rear with LED panels. By changing the colour of the lights, the F 015 indicates, for example, what driving mode it is currently in: blue stands for autonomous and white for manual. If the F 015 detects a pedestrian at the roadside, undulating light signals appear in the LED grille to show the pedestrian that the vehicle has seen them. This has the effect of building trust between human and machine, as the traditional eye contact with the driver will no longer exist as we know it today.
Kohler: Communication is the key. Should a pedestrian wish to cross the road, for instance, the F 015 halts and scans its surroundings to check whether it is safe to do so. If it is, the car uses a high-precision laser system to project a virtual zebra crossing onto the road surface and additionally lets the pedestrian know it is clear to cross with an audible “Please go ahead” prompt.
Incredible. If this pedestrian system is adopted across brands, and are synced with traffic lights, then pedestrians will be able to trust the car again, eye contact or not.
Data security is generally the second thing discussed when the topic is the Connected Car. If you thought the North Koreans were happy about hacking Sony, what would be their reaction if they hacked Mercedes-Benz? Mercedes is known as one of the safest cars in the world for passengers. How will the F 015 provide a similar level of security for data?
Q: The complete connectivity of the motor car raises questions about data privacy and data security. What does Mercedes-Benz do to ensure that vehicle data is secure? How would you reassure potential skeptics?
Kohler: We follow a cloud-based approach. In combination with the Daimler Vehicle Backend, a specially secured server, this guarantees a secure and encrypted exchange of data every time. In the interest of our customers, data privacy and therefore transparency are also very important to us besides data security. The customers must be aware what data is being collected when and for what purpose, and can decide for themselves what data they wish to release. There are strict rules and regulations for accessing data, and independent audits are conducted to make sure they are complied with.
Weber: When developing the fully connected car, we paid careful attention to the issue of data privacy right from the start. The car of the future will turn increasingly into a digital companion, which at the same time means it must keep data safe as well as be perfectly safe to operate out on the road. This careful and secure handling of data is a vital factor for the general acceptance of the new technologies.
The car of Mercedes’ future will be powered by a fuel cell, following a logical progression we see starting to play out today. As much as I love hybrid and electric, fuel cell is the long-term destination. By 2030, I’m sure the “old school” will be writing stories on how cars that get 35 mpg are good enough, and how fuel cell is overrated. Here’s more on the Mercedes F 015 Luxury in Motion powertrain:
The fuel cell stack on the F 015 has been further optimised in terms of performance, efficiency and durability, and delivers the traction current for two electric motors, each with an output of 100 kW (136 hp). These are installed in a compact arrangement in the rear end of the vehicle and transmit their drive power to the rear wheels. The electrical drive system generates a total peak power output of 200 kW (272 hp). The maximum torque of 200 Nm per motor is available the instant the vehicle starts off, which results in impressive acceleration: the F 015 completes the sprint from 0 to 100 km/h in 6.7 seconds and goes on to reach a governed top speed of 200 km/h. Its consumption equates to just 0.60 kilograms of hydrogen per 100 kilometers, the equivalent of 2.0 liters of diesel. (All consumption figures are combined figures measured in accordance with the NEDC New European Driving Cycle).
Couple power like that with stronger but lighter body components, and you have a car that should be fun to drive when the times call for it.
As stated earlier, the F 015 marks the return of “suicide doors”. These doors swing open to 90 degrees, allowing for easy in and out for all occupants. If you notice the pictures, there’s no center pillar that the doors latch to. This pillar historically offered structural stability as well as safety. How is Mercedes rethinking this?
Thanks to the specially structured body, it has been possible to dispense with a B-pillar. A very sturdy interconnected system with mechanical locking elements ensures exemplary safety standards. These elements securely interlock the front and rear doors when they are closed at the same time fixing them firmly to the roof frame and side skirts. The resulting composite load path allows an extremely high amount of energy to be absorbed in a frontal or side impact with minimal intrusion into the passenger compartment.
To make it possible to open the front and rear doors independently, the body design experts at Mercedes-Benz developed a special double hinge for the rear doors that is attached to the C-pillar. This allows the rear door to be released from the interconnected system separately with a fluid sliding movement backwards before pivoting out to open fully. To ensure supreme comfort, all door operating mechanisms are powered electrically and fitted with obstruction sensors. The sealing concept for the door system is the same as that used on the current Mercedes-Benz S-Class, an automatic power closing feature offers added ease of operation, plus there is that solid closing sound so typical of Mercedes.
The F 015 Luxury in Motion is more than throwback looks. For body composition, Mercedes envisions relying less on steel, and integrating more of what they’ve learned about reinforced plastics in their F1 racing cars:
To dissipate impact energy, for example, conventional steels have been replaced by fibre-reinforced plastics (FRP), particularly those composed of carbon fibres (carbon-fibre-reinforced plastic, CFRP). The developers were able to harness the company’s many years of experience in the world of Formula 1 here: the specific energy absorption rate of this motorsport material in an impact is four to five times higher than steel or aluminium, resulting in a far lower weight too. This takes occupant protection into a new dimension. By cleverly combining CFRP, aluminium and high-strength steels in a way that matches the varying requirements exactly, the lightweight engineering experts were able to make the bodyshell 40 percent lighter compared to today’s production vehicles.
The Mercedes-Benz development team replaced the steel side members that have previously been the norm with plate-shaped multi-chamber sections made from an extremely light CFRP composite. Together with additional cross-bracing above and below the firewall, this produces a highly efficient and very rigid front box unit that both carries and encloses the fuel cell, preventing components from being damaged in the event of a collision. The impact energy is absorbed within a very short distance by the highly effective energy absorption structure before reaching the drive unit. A similar construction can be found at the rear of the vehicle housing the two electric motors, important control units as well as high-voltage components.
On the inside, Mercedes has developed a new entertainment and information system, called “Extended Sense”, which will be the new heart of vehicle on-board electronics and entertainment.
The developers have therefore equipped the new research vehicle with an “Extended Sense” system to give it the requisite enhanced perceptual capabilities. Thanks to this high-resolution sensor system, the vehicle keeps a constant eye on its surroundings, is capable of interpreting what it sees and taking action at any time, and relays relevant information to its passengers, depending on the specific driving situation. This converts the F 015 into a perfectly dependable partner, while always letting the occupants make the final decision and retain overall control, if they so wish.
The interior of the F 015 Luxury in Motion is designed as a “digital activity space” that is fully connected with the outside world thanks to “Extended Sense”. Route planning, music selection, images, contacts and many other functions can be displayed on the screens at the sides and in the rear and selected by means of proximity gestures or touch control. A simplified reproduction of the vehicle’s surroundings can also be visualised in the displays, with the vehicle’s motion depicted in the form of streams of particles. The functions in the front display can be operated by a novel new eye tracking function and by gestures for great ergonomic comfort. The Mercedes-Benz F 015 Luxury in Motion thereby gives a preview of how the self-driving car of the future could become a platform for communication and interaction.
So if I’m following, we can watch a movie in the car. While it drives us. If we want to see what’s going on outside, we can look out the window. Or we can tell Extended Sense to show us, and it will show us outside conditions. It can also warn us of collision, speed, proximity to other vehicles, and more.
The world of the F 015 Luxury in Motion concept is as cool as it is realistic. Given it’s a Mercedes, it will be pretty expensive as well. But it’s Mercedes, not Kia. Given how companies mimic each other, I’d rather Mercedes set the trend than the other way around.