We have seen many robotic innovations at CES this year, from GrillBots (to clean your BBQ) to wearable drones that fly off your wrist. Whiles these are cute novelties, the one inventor that blew my mind was Mercedes Benz. The German car manufacturer is terrified of loosing marketshare to Google in the new realm of driverless vehicles, so earlier this week they introduced the world to the new luxury of self-driving vehicles (also read on for their Truck version).
What was even more encouraging is that Mercedes was not the only car company at CES focused on the robotic revolution. Ford’s CEO Mark Fields stated that he expects to see self-driving cars on America’s roads by the end of the decade. Fields didn’t say if Ford would be among the first to produce an autonomous vehicle.
“Fully autonomous vehicles are a real possibility,” Fields told Automotive News. “Probably, in the next five years, you’ll see somebody introduce autonomous vehicles.”
Fields thunder was muffled by the Mercedes’ F 015 concept car on the opening day of CES (read Car & Driver Review). The company’s vision of a driverless future, includes features like a steering wheel that can be completely stowed within the dashboard. It should be noted that several other automakers have vowed to have autonomous vehicles on the road within the next few years, including General Motors’ Cadillac, Nissan and Audi.
Based upon the F 015 unveiling, Daimler Benz is one of the only automobile companies to truly dreams of a future that is fully automated. This evolution would eliminate the need for traffic signs and could remove pedestrian accidents in its entirety. In addition, to the new level of luxury and leisure (see video), the F 015 is fully programmed to delivered its occupants to their destination,and find its own parking spot—potentially well out of the city, in order to keep high-population zones free of excessive traffic.
Benz is not only thinking of the consumer autonomous car market (which would dramatically improve the lives of homebound individuals), but the commercial space as well. According to a statement made from the company earlier this year, “in 10 years trucks will be able to drive autonomously on the motorways and highways of Europe… The Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025 constitutes a revolution in efficiency and safety, a revolution for road traffic and its infrastructure, for professional driving and for the road transport sector.”
Like the F 015 the new truck bleeds innovation – LEDs replace than traditional headlights, cameras are mounted on side wings instead of mirrors, making the design more aerodynamic (and very cool). Radar sensors and camera technology allow the truck to drive autonomously, creating a Highway Pilot system similar to the autopilot function used by aircraft. Sensors positioned all around the truck register both moving and stationary objects in the vicinity to form a three-dimensional map of the surroundings. Using this information, the steering is automatically controlled to keep the vehicle in the center of the lane and fuel consumption is kept at a minimum as the truck self-navigates different topographies. A feature named Blind Spot Assist employs radar sensors to monitor the sides of the truck and alert the driver to the presence of other road users that may not be immediately visible.
The truck also has the ability to connect with other vehicles on the road, increasing the awareness of their speed and proximity to help prevent collisions, but doesn’t require this information to drive autonomously. The design still features a driver’s cab with a steering wheel, but instruments and switches are replaced with touch-screen displays. The driver’s seat can be swiveled 45 degrees to allow the operator to perform other tasks while the vehicle is driving itself, including processing data or communicating with family and friends during long trips. Daimler Trucks demonstrated the vehicle’s autonomous driving capabilities at up to 80 kilometres per hour on a section of motorway in Germany in July.
“The challenge now is to leverage this momentum and to continue our open dialogue with all parties involved, so that in 10 years’ time the autonomously driving truck will indeed have become an accepted feature on our roads,” said Wolfgang Bernhard, head of Diamler Trucks.
Last March, Google revealed its self-driving car that will change the definition of car ownership as well the driving experience. Mercedes obviously does not want to be caught sleeping at the wheel, so it is building a fleet of consumer and enterprise vehicles for an autonomous future. The big question is when will these innovations cross the chasm into mainstream adoption from a regulatory and psychological perceptive. If the Highway changed how Americans experienced the road in the 1950s, the robot will revolutionize the interior experience into a new social platform – sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride…