Ready or not, here it comes: the future of automotive is in automation. At least that’s what Mercedes-Benz is saying with a press release revealing its interior concept for a possible future autonomous vehicle. Like many of the latest developments in the world of cars, there are some pretty big promises buzzing around driverless technology. With the elimination of human error, automated cars have the potential to dramatically increase roadway efficiency. For example, computers could attentively maintain a minimal distance between bumpers, easing congestion, reducing aerodynamic drag, and raising overall speeds. A constant, even throttle application would also do wonders for fuel mileage. An autonomous car would never get on the road drunk or tired, never get distracted by a text or song change. Vehicle interiors could become something of a “mobile office” or “travel lounge." Accidents, as we know them, could disappear completely.
However, with any new technology, there are always downsides. The idea of “going for a drive” would probably be restricted to specific roads, and the human race would sacrifice one more sliver of self-sufficiency to the machines. But, as they say, nothing stands in the way of progress.
Mercedes is quick to point out that several semi-autonomous features already exist in the cars of today. For example, in the Mercedes lineup, we find Stop-and-Go assist, which calculates the distance to the leading car in congested situations to help ease driver tedium, and Active Park Assist, which commandeers steering input when maneuvering into tight spaces. Audi’s lane change assist and automatic impact braking also come to mind.
Clearly, the technology is tantalizingly close to becoming a mainstay of public roads. As we place more and more trust in the machines that run our lives, the relationships we form with technology will inexorably change. However, the nature of that change remains to be seen, and there are sure to be surprises, both positive and negative, along the way.
Click past the jump to read more about Mercedes’ future autonomous cars.
The interior design for Mercedes’ autonomous vehicle is labeled as a “digital living space”, which basically translates into a Minority Report-esque cabin filled with gesture recognition and touch displays. Via monitoring of eye, hand, and finger movements, the system recognizes an occupant’s request for information and instantly acquiesces, all as the scenery around them rushes by under the guidance of an AI driver.
Included are swivel seats that allow those in the front to turn around and talk to the passengers in the back. If required, there’s an extendable steering wheel for “manual driving”.
By combining luxury with the latest technological gadgetry, Mercedes hopes to lay the groundwork for an entirely new user experience.
“By virtue of this new form of travel, the occupants of autonomous vehicles will have the freedom to put their time spent travelling to even more varied use,” Mercedes states in the press release.
Why it matters
Things are moving fast in the world of computer-driven automobiles. New concepts seem to appear all the time, like Mercedes’ Future Truck 2025, which boasts an easy switch to fully automated highway driving, providing the driver with a break from the long haul. Or, closer to the present, there’s the report that in August of last year, a Mercedes S500 completed a journey of 60 miles, from Mannheim to Pforzheim, Germany, wholly autonomously. This is all proof positive that self-driving cars are not far from coming to a road near you.
It all makes for a very interesting proposition. By combining the efficiency of a computer-controlled commute with the privacy of a personal automobile, you really do get the best of both worlds. We see a time when commuter lanes will give way to autonomous lanes, when the latest AI packages will trump traditional performance figures. Is this good? Bad? Does it even matter what we think, or will it happen regardless of individual opinions? We’re thinking the latter.
Relaxing travel lounge or mobile office: the luxury saloon of the future will provide the option of autonomous driving, offering people totally new freedoms. In future, the car will take on more than ever the character of an individual retreat in urban traffic. Mercedes-Benz provided a virtual preview of what the future holds with an innovative interior concept for an autonomous luxury vehicle presented at the TecDay "Autonomous Mobility". The trailblazing "interior of the future" also demonstrates new dimensions in communication and interaction with the vehicle. Mercedes-Benz has already turned the vision of autonomous driving into reality with the S 500 INTELLIGENT DRIVE and the Future Truck 2025, and is now pursuing its work on concrete ideas for the future shape of autonomous driving.
Autonomous vehicles will be commonplace and socially accepted in the cities of the future. This new dimension in mobility will be accompanied by social and technical changes. With the new luxury-class interior concept, the car of the future will be more than purely a means of transport – rather, it will become a variable and private area of retreat in increasingly dense urban traffic. By virtue of this new form of travel, the occupants of autonomous vehicles will have the freedom to put their time spent travelling to even more varied use.
"We are convinced that autonomous driving will be a central factor on the way to comfortable, accident-free driving," says Prof. Dr Herbert Kohler, Head of Corporate Research & Sustainability and Chief Environmental Officer for Daimler AG. "Autonomous driving relieves pressure and stress in driving situations usually regarded as tedious – for example in tailbacks, in inner-city areas or on long journeys. At the same time, it opens up new ways in which people can make the best use of their time on the road." Kohler adds: "The time spent in the car acquires a totally new quality. This is in keeping with the growing desire for privacy and individuality in a crowded and hectic urban environment."
Elegant and comfortable: mobile living space as a luxury lounge
At the TecDay "Autonomous Mobility" in Sunnyvale, California, Mercedes-Benz is presenting an outlook on the future with an interior concept for an autonomous luxury saloon as a virtual 360° experience. For the design of the interior the engineers, designers and futurologists have evolved an interdisciplinary scenario and thought through the freedoms that autonomous driving brings: more space, more time, more ways to interact. At the same time, the interior reflects the typical Mercedes interpretation of "Modern Luxury" – generous, elegant and intuitive.
"With this visionary interior concept we are defining the luxury of the future," observes Gorden Wagener, Head of Design at Daimler AG. "We have achieved a symbiosis of the virtual and real worlds and realised the most intelligent solutions in highly aesthetic design."
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. This enables the front passengers to turn around and talk directly to the other passengers while on the move. Or to focus their attention towards the front as necessary for manual driving. An extendable steering wheel offers the driver the appropriate options to this end.
Interactive and intuitive: the new definition of convenience
In addition to design, particular attention was paid to use of the interior space. One central aspect of the innovative interior concept is a continuous exchange of information between vehicle, passengers and the outside world. The interior becomes a "digital living space" which is comprehensively networked as an integral part of the intelligent vehicle system. The occupants are able to interact intuitively with the vehicle by means of gestures or touch displays. The system automatically recognises the wishes of individual occupants for information or the selection of control functions by sensor detection of eye, hand and finger movements. The vehicle’s surroundings, whether pedestrians, other road users or the local buildings, are also brought into the interior and portrayed as fluid all-round information on displays. Embedded in a totally new sense of space inside the vehicle, Mercedes-Benz’s user experience strategy aims to systematically combine intuitive use with the design idiom. Information, interaction and communication are the connecting lines between man, machine and the surroundings.
"Visions are necessary to drive the social discourse on mobility and the design of the urban environment ahead," says Prof. Dr Herbert Kohler. "With our innovative interior concept of a luxury lounge for an autonomous vehicle of the future, we are giving a specific outlook on our ideas of future mobility. This interior concept forms an essential part of a new overall vehicle concept which we will be unveiling at the CES in Las Vegas."
Intelligent Drive: Systematically pursuing the road to autonomous driving
As the inventor of the automobile, Mercedes-Benz natural assumes a pioneering role where autonomous driving is concerned. The declared aim is to develop the automobile further, from a self-moving ("automobile") vehicle to an independent ("autonomous") vehicle. In its research and development activities, Mercedes-Benz goes well beyond purely technical realisation of automated driving and anticipates various scenarios. The focus here is always on people: The objective is to be able to present technically feasible and socially beneficial answers to questions concerning the mobility of the future, in line with our comprehensive approach and as part of the company’s culture of innovation. This revolution in mobility requires evolutionary stages. This means that in the years to come, new and improved assistance systems will continue to prepare the predefined way towards autonomous driving.
Semi-autonomous driving is already a fact on public roads today – for example with the Mercedes-Benz models in the S-, E-, C- and CLS-Class. One such feature is Stop-and-Go Assist, which automatically follows tailback traffic and provides steering assistance. When parking with the aid of Active Park Assist, the technology chooses a suitable parking space and takes over the steering. The driver only needs to accelerate and brake. Mercedes-Benz is continuing its "Intelligent Drive" strategy with numerous assistance systems and substantially expanded functions with the aim of systematically enhancing comfort and safety.
Mercedes-Benz has already impressively demonstrated that autonomous driving is not some future Utopia, but already technically possible even in complex urban traffic or on inter-urban routes. In August 2013 the Mercedes-Benz S 500 INTELLIGENT DRIVE based on the new S-Class and equipped with near-series technology covered the historic, approx. 100-kilometre Bertha-Benz route from Mannheim to Pforzheim completely autonomously. Mercedes-Benz has also demonstrated its role as an innovator in the truck sector: in the summer of 2014 the brand presented the Future Truck 2025 as the world’s first autonomous truck. This near-series study based on the Mercedes-Benz Actros 1845 showed its extraordinary capabilities at speeds of up to 80 km/h in realistic traffic situations on a section of the A14 autobahn near Magdeburg.
But it is not only in Germany that the experts at Mercedes-Benz carry out extensive road trials. The engineers carry out their tests worldwide, e.g. also in China or the USA, in order to incorporate different traffic conditions and infrastructure parameters into their development work. Following the issue of an appropriate licence in mid-September, Mercedes-Benz is one of the first automobile manufacturers permitted to test autonomously driving vehicles on public roads in the US state of California. In addition the company makes use of the USA’s largest test facility, the Concord Naval Weapons Station, for further testing of this future technology. This test site in the south-western USA has a network of metalled roads similar to that of a city, and is therefore the ideal location for testing autonomous vehicles in the most realistic surroundings possible.
Mercedes-Benz experts engaged in a dialogue on the future of mobility
The TecDay "Autonomous Mobility" forms part of a regularly dialogue of Mercedes-Benz on the future of mobility. For example, the Future Talk introduced by Mercedes-Benz in 2013 established a new dialogue format and asked the question "How Utopian is the future?". In dialogue with the avant-garde in different disciplines, Mercedes-Benz experts shared their visions of shaping a desirable mobile future. The focus of the Mercedes-Benz Future Talk "Robotics" in July 2014 was on the interaction between man and machine.