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CES 2015: Mercedes-Benz shows off self-driving car of the future

Mercedes took a bold step into the future of self-driving cars at the CES consumer electronics show Monday night with the introduction of a radical concept car.

Dubbed the F 015 Luxury in Motion, the sleek four-door automobile envisions how luxury self-driving cars might look and feel a short 15 years in the future.

“Anyone who focuses solely on the technology has not yet grasped how autonomous driving will change our society,” Dieter Zetsche, head of Mercedes-Benz cars, said before his keynote address at the annual event in Las Vegas. “The car is growing beyond its role as a mere means of transport, and will ultimately become a mobile living space.”

The low-slung concept's design isn't oriented around driving. Instead, it's all about riding in comfort.  At over 17ft long, the Mercedes is roughly the length of a Cadillac Escalade SUV, but sits low as a family sedan.

Inside, four people sit facing one another in lounge-style chairs that swivel 30 degree when the suicide-style doors open. The two front chairs also swivel to face the windshield in the event that manual driving is necessary.

There’s a steering wheel that folds into the dashboard when not in use. Six display screens in the instrument panel and side and rear panels relay information from the outside world, or play movies, or online entertainment.

The car’s autonomous systems are guided by stereo cameras, radar, and ultrasonic sensors. LEDs in the headlights and grille light up blue if the car is being driven autonomously, white if a human is driving.

The F 015 is built from lightweight carbon fiber, aluminum, and high-strength steel. The car is technically a rechargeable hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. It has a battery that recharges by parking it on a charge pad, a technology that will likely arrive as an alternative for plug-in electric vehicles before this concept car goes on sale. The F 015 also has a fuel cell powered by tanks of compressed hydrogen.

 What’s the point of showing a car that won't be available until 2030 – a car that's highly unlikely to resemble the current version?

Such a concept car allows Mercedes to flex its technical and creative muscles, and keeps the Mercedes name at the forefront of the self-driving conversation. Both experts and automakers say it isn’t a question of if these vehicles hit the road, it’s when.

Many new cars offer the self-driving basics: radar-based cruise control, autonomous braking before an accident, and lane-keeping assist. By 2017, brands like Cadillac, Tesla, Mercedes, and Audi expect to offer options that will allow their high-end models to travel autonomously on freeways.

By 2025, these same vehicles will likely be capable of self-driving in all situations. At that point, “time and space will become the luxury,” Mercedes said in announcing the F 015.

A concept like the F 015 also keeps Mercedes relevant, both now and in the future. Companies like Google see self-driving cars becoming a subscription-based commodity service rather than a product owned by an individual.

To compete, a  brand like Mercedes needs to begin orienting its vehicles as a must-have luxury, according to Egil Juliussen, director of research for autonomous vehicles at IHS Automotive.

“Once you get to the self driving car, you get this issue with a luxury brand like Mercedes or BMW’s ‘Ultimate driving machine’,” Juliussen said. “How do you translate that? They still want to sell the car as a product not a service.”

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
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