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Mercedes F 015 concept is a futuristic horse and carriage

CES 2015: Mercedes has been looking into what the car could be like in the year 2030. The result is the self-driving F 015 concept unveiled in Las Vegas.

The design approach is said to be a modern-day interpretation of the horse and carriage. Stick with us, folks. With self-driving cars like the F 015 able to drive without human intervention, it makes sense to change the interior as we know it.

Passengers can sit facing each other, making time spent in the F 015’s cabin is a more social and natural experience (unless you get sick travelling backwards). Even the driver, who normally has to concentrate on driving, can sit back and let technology do all the work, with the steering wheel retracting when the autonomous mode is selected.

A futuristic carriage deserves a futuristic powertrain and not two horses out front. Instead you will find two electric motors and a hydrogen system for generating electricity on the fly, creating a total of 268bhp that is sent to the rear wheels.

0 to 62mph is said to take a theoretical 6.7 seconds, while the range is 683 miles – 559 from the fuel cells and 124 from the lithium ion battery. Enough to put most hybrids and electric cars to shame if the claim is true.

The F 015’s weight is kept down by using generous amounts of CFRP – that’s carbon fibre reinforced plastic – as seen on the production BMW i3 and i8 all-electric cars. The stuff is also used to help prevent the hydrogen tank from making a loud bang in the event of a crash.

LED lights in the front grille change colour to indicate whether the car is being driven manually or autonomously. They also shine when a pedestrian is detected, at which point a laser system projects a virtual zebra crossing on the road while telling them to “please go ahead” and cross if it is deemed safe to do so.

The F 015 lives up to its ‘Luxury in Motion’ moniker by having four rotating seats in a sizable cabin. In terms of size, the 5220mm long, 2018mm wide and 1,524mm tall concept is slightly shorter, wider and taller than the production S-Class in long wheelbase form.

Legroom is, however, improved because the wheelbase is 445mm longer (hence the short overhangs at the front and back). There is no B-pillar to get in the way, either, as Mercedes has used a clever interlocking system that makes it easier for passengers to step in and out of the cabin via the forward-opening front doors and rearward-opening rear doors.

Passengers can pass the time with various displays through the cabin, all of which are controlled using eye tracking and hand gestures. Buttons have no place in the future, it seems.

Mercedes boss Dieter Zetsche said at the unveiling: “Anyone who focuses solely on the technology has not yet grasped how autonomous driving will change our society. The car is growing beyond its role as a mere means of transport and will ultimately become a mobile living space.”

Elements of self-driving cars like adaptive cruise control and lane departure assist already exist on production cars, but one that can completely take over like the F 015 is a long way off. So all we can hope is that designers can make something much less ugly between now and then.

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