Mercedes’ Bonkers Self-Driving Concept Is Roaming San Francisco

Alex Davies

Mercedes-Benz F 015 The German automaker’s CES contribution was a radical concept for a self-driving car. Outside, it looks a little bit like a space-age bar of soap. The interior is more intriguing. The front seats swivel 180 degrees, transforming the car’s center into a lounge-like communal space. It’s a bold rethinking of the driving (and riding) experience. Josh Valcarcel/WIRED

Mercedes’ Bonkers Self-Driving Concept Is Roaming SF

Mercedes-Benz F 015. Josh Valcarcel/WIRED

The Mercedes-Benz F 015 self-driving car concept is without a doubt the most bonkers, futuristic thing we’ve seen in a long time, and for that we love it. Which makes us very happy that it’s been spotted today in our hometown of San Francisco, both parked on the streetand driving around.

The most likely explanation for the jaunt around the Bay Area is that Mercedes-Benz is filming some sort of promotional video about, or at least including, the F015. What’s unclear is whether there’s a human hidden behind those windows, and if not, how the car senses the world around it. It’s free of the spinning LIDAR system used on many self-driving cars, and there are no visible cameras or radars. It’s also missing things like side-view mirrors that are mandated by federal regulations, so our guess is that it’s not a legitimate, government-sanctioned test vehicle, but something closer to a film prop. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

spotted @nickkova

A photo posted by Jake Stangel (@jakestangel) on Mar 4, 2015 at 6:57am PST

The F 015, also pompously known as the “Luxury in Motion” concept, is ugly. What we love is what it represents: How Mercedes is thinking about the coming time when autonomous cars will fundamentally change vehicle design. Once computers are inarguably better drivers than we are and regulations reflect that, longstanding norms like forward-facing seats, mirrors, and pedals will go out the (opaque grey) window. It will be a seismic shift, and automakers will be free to pursue exciting, even revolutionary, ideas.

So the F 015 has spinning seats for when the driver wants to chat more freely with those in the back seat. It’s controlled through hand gestures, eye-tracking, and touchscreens. Everything has LEDs. When the car senses a pedestrian ahead, it can project a crosswalk onto the ground. “The car is growing beyond its role as a mere means of transport and will ultimately become a mobile living space,” Daimler boss Dr. Dieter Zetsche said when he unveiled the car in January at CES.

We don’t expect anything like the F 015 to hit the market for at least two decades, but in the meantime, Mercedes is making more tangible progress toward the self-driving future. It plans to put cars with some autonomous capabilities on the market by 2020. Just don’t expect the seats the swing 360 degrees or the windows to be replaced with touchscreens.

The automaker is planning a Bay Area event featuring the F 015 “in action” later this month. We’ll have more to report then.