We recently covered the debut of the Mercedes-Benz F 015 Luxury in Motion. It’s specs are impressive, to be sure, but what does this self-navigating car mean for the future of humankind’s relationship with automobiles? Andrew Sinagra, the creative director at Ntropic, gives us a glimpse of the possibilities.
WRITTEN BY ANDREW SINAGRA
I was in college as the internet rolled in with a trickle and I was too young and short sighted to see the change coming. I believe it was due to the slow modem speeds and limited content. There was no big bang, no shot heard around the world. The internet created a new paradigm for communication and opened our eyes to a vastly connected future, yet it barely caught my attention.
Now in the age of automation I have been looking and waiting for that revolutionary step that will change the way we live forever. I envied the generation that witnessed the invention of the airplane and the roots of commercial aviation. I wondered what it was like to watch as man first set foot on the moon. These events were stamps in time that I only read about in history books. But to my excitement, as Bob Dylan put it, the times they are a changin’ — and the Mercedes-Benz F 015 is leading the way.
The F 015 is a window to our future and a vision of how the world will change around us. Beyond the sculpted design, this automobile is a showcase of possibility. At first glance the lines of this vehicle look like they were ripped from the concept art of a space action blockbuster. It’s sleek, sliver facade is bookended with LED light fields that signal various states of control. The interior is technology laden with touch screens, gestural recognition, and eye tracking sensors. A variable seating system turns the typical vehicle interior into an intimate gathering space. However, once you get past the space-age facade and cool gadgetry you realize this work of art is the beginning of a revolution.
As a commercial director working with a number of automotive manufacturers I am generally up to speed on the latest car tech. My job places me in the middle between the manufacturer and the driver trying to visually explain how it all works, so I have seen the signs coming for some time.. countless sensors at every corner of a vehicle, night vision cameras, GPS, radar! When the first automated parallel parking vehicle was demonstrated, it was cool and interesting to some but it was almost a gimmick. It wasn’t going to change my life, but the writing was on the wall. All of these technologies have been leading up to one thing, self driving cars. Not only self driving, but self navigating cars… the autonomous vehicle!
Yes, the Mercedes-Benz F 015 is a fully autonomous vehicle. When ready, you can sit back, take your hands off the wheel, swing your chair around to face your passengers and relax. In addition to the multitude of sensors keeping you between the lines the car utilizes 3D cameras, highly detailed digital maps, Car-2-Car and Car-2-Object communications technologies to provide a worry free driverless mode of transportation.
At face value this is pretty exciting. The thought of taking my hands off the wheel and letting my car handle the morning commute is exhilarating. I probably wouldn’t mind being in traffic on the 405 if I wasn’t the one stomping on the brake every 5 seconds. My work would love it. The two hours I spend in the car every day could be two more hours on the clock. Think of all the things you could be doing from getting a head start on work to video chatting with friends to crushing that last candy. It would truly be liberating.
Now lets look further down the road to when self driving cars will be prevalent. Traffic patterns will begin to clear as cars will communicate to one another helping to average out congestion. The number of automotive accidents will lower as there will be no distracted or drowsy driver to take their eyes off the road. The roadways will begin to hum with a constant flow of vehicles working in unison to provide the most efficient means of travel possible.
These efficiencies will revolutionize the road trip. Higher operating speeds will be easily achievable as vehicle reaction times are in the milliseconds. The time spent flying from Los Angeles to San Francisco will rival the drive time, if you include not having to arrive an hour early, wait in line at TSA screening, and stare blankly at the carousel waiting for your bags to arrive.
Still, this is only the beginning. Imagine your car has just dropped you off at work and has gone to look for a parking space. Yes, your car can drive around looking for a parking space without you, but lets move past that. Why let such an intelligent piece of machinery sit parked curbside all day. While at work you place an online order with the local grocery store. You receive a notification that your groceries are ready to be picked up and your car heads to the store without you. In line at the grocery store drive thru, an RFID tag in your car identifies your order to the store and they place the bags in your vehicle. The store marks the order as delivered and your ride returns to pick you up. Automated tasks such as these will quickly become commonplace.
When I was old enough to drive, owning a car was a symbol of something special. You took pride in your vehicle and it was an extension of your personality. We named our cars silly things like “Sally” , “Dirty Diana” and “Brad.” We dressed them up with fancy wheels and dashboard tchotchke’s. They were part of us. With two hands on the wheel you could feel the road beneath you. Those of you luckily enough to understand the joys of stomping on the clutch and down shifting into 3rd at 70mph will know why that makes me smile a bit inside.
Now picture the next generation’s relationship to the automobile. No hands on the wheel. No clutch to press. No manual transmission. While I may be nostalgic for these things I don’t see this as a step in the wrong direction. It is merely the progression of time. Our children’s children will have a vastly different connection with the automobile than we did. It will become a utilitarian device where single person ownership may even be questioned. If your vehicle can pick you up and take you to work everyday and then aid other people with their transportation needs then why limit it’s capabilities. Setting luxury comforts aside, would it even matter if it was the same car taking you home? By sharing the burden, vehicles could one day become an on demand service. The overall number of cars on the road may even be lessened as efficiencies in communal transportation rises.
This vision of tomorrow excites me to the core and I want to stand at the forefront of this autonomous revolution. The future is here and I can’t wait to ride in one.