The F 015 autonomous car made its debut at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas more than two years ago. It’s packed with advanced (or what was considered advanced in 2015) autonomous technology, and can, in theory, run for almost 900 kilometres on a mixture of pure electric power and a hydrogen fuel cell.
But while countless other vehicles are still trying to prove that cars can, literally, drive themselves, Merc’s autonomous car offering takes this for granted. Instead, this vehicle wants us to consider what we’ll actually do while the car is driving us around.
The steering wheel slides into the dashboard to create more of a “lounge” space. The seating configuration allows four people to face each other if they want to talk. And when the onboard conversation dries up, a bewildering collection of screens — one on the rear wall, and one on each of the doors — offers plenty of opportunities to interact with various media.
The F 015 autonomous car could have done all of this as a flash-in-the-pan show car — seen at a couple of major events before vanishing without a trace. But in fact, it has been touring almost constantly since that Vegas debut.
On the day that I managed to get up close with the car at a Mercedes facility in the UK, engineer Thomas Jaeger admitted that the F 015 had probably racked up tens of thousands of air miles.
Not bad for a car that is estimated to have been driven less than 500 kilometres under its own steam (or battery, at least) during the same period. More than a quarter of a million people have now managed to get up close and interact with the F 015 autonomous car during its lifetime.
“We have learned so much from this project,” Jaeger said. “The most important thing is that people aren’t afraid of autonomous vehicles. They see them as an opportunity — and they are already interested to know what else they’ll be able to do when they don’t have to look at the road.”
The key, Jaeger said, is communication. “Of course, people are keen to experience movies or games while they’re on the move,” he said. “But they also want to be productive, whether it’s using this time to sort out things with their lives, or to catch up with friends — either in the car or on social networking. Their feedback says that they’re ready and excited by the extra time that autonomous cars can give them.”