The Mercedes-Benz F 015 and the future of transportation

Chris Ziegler, writing for Ars Technica, spent a day with the research car:

Everything about the F 015 is automated, or at least gives the appearance of being automated — the car is summoned by a smartphone app, opens and closes its doors automatically, and gently urges nearby pedestrians (like me) to “please, go ahead.” In reality, the car was continually being attended to by a substantial fleet of Mercedes engineers brought in from Germany and Silicon Valley, babying it as if it was made of papier mâché. Currently, the F 015 isn’t even fully autonomous — it needs arrays of beacons on the surrounding pavement to define its path.

And after each group of four went on the short, closed-course trip, there was a full inspection and a reset of the car’s internals. Several emphasized to me that the car is “sensitive,” reacting poorly to rain and extreme heat. They made it sound, ironically, almost human.

Right now the vehicle is, as Zeigler puts it, “a hodgepodge of ideas that are fleshed out just enough to test.” But sometimes the best way to learn is to leave the lab — even if the lab came to the car in this case. And wrapping the whole thing up in a pretty package definitely doesn’t hurt.