Mercedes-Benz got the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show rolling in a big way Monday night as their new concept car drove itself onto the stage at the opening night keynote address at the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas.
The Mercedes-Benz F 015 Luxury in Motion delivered a visibly impressed Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, to the stage in style.
“That was futuristic,” Shapiro said as he exited.
The car features a sleek silver exterior, 26-inch custom wheels and a blue LED grill that can sense pedestrian movement and project a crosswalk in front of it. As the pedestrian crosses, the car graciously says, "Please go ahead."
“As you can see, the car of the future is really good looking, smart, polite and helpful,” said Dr. Dieter Zetsche, Head of Mercedes-Benz Cars.
Zetsche began his keynote address by noting that population growth is sending more people to urban areas—and onto the roads. Zetsche rejects the idea that this movement makes driving less appealing, stating his belief that cars grant the “most important luxury goods of the 21st century: private space and quality time.”
Zetsche promised the F 015 would deliver both, even in a major resort city like Las Vegas.
“That really is priceless,” he said.
The F 015 comes in the wake of 30 years of research into self-driving automobiles and draws inspiration from the transportation of the past. Zetsche spoke of returning to the “carriage concept"—that is, the way people traveling by carriage were able to face each other, talk, and read during travel. Still, the car's appearance is absolutely futuristic.
To that end, the wheels are placed far apart to leave room for as much interior space as possible. Zetsche explained the space was designed entirely around the concept of autonomous driving, describing it as a comfortable space between work and home that turns passengers into guests.
The car's interior has been entirely rethought and redesigned, with windows that can be used as screens and a complete lack of buttons. Every seat is considered a “driver’s seat” because control of the internal systems is accessible through a free-floating control unit, though there is also a traditional steering wheel in the traditional location if you want to take the wheel yourself.
Everything inside is controlled by gestures and eye-tracking technology, and all relevant driving information can be viewed on the dashboard or a heads-up display.
Mercedes-Benz first entered the automated driving market in the 1990s, with its VaMP design that was able to autonomously drive 620 miles on the Autobahn in Germany, proving the technology was feasible. At the time, however, it proved too complex and expensive to bring to the masses.
Two years ago, Mercedes-Benz returned to the automated concept with a self-driving S-Class truck that was able to navigate a 60-mile route on its own. According to Zetsche, the truck completed the route with no accidents, driver intervention, tickets, or road rage encounters.
Zetsche said the current state of urbanization, technology, and familiarity with driver assistance systems makes it the right time to “think about the car of the future.”
“Mankind has been dreaming about autonomous cars since the 1950s,” Zetsche said. “At Mercedes-Benz, we made the early vision of driving without a horse a reality, and we also want to make the option of driving without a driver a reality.”
“We are simply not big into just dreaming.”