By Jody McCutcheon
The future is chilled out. Road rage will be a thing of the past as driverless cars use radar, GPS, lidar and computer vision to get you from A to B. Advanced control systems interpret sensory information to identify appropriate navigation paths, as well as obstacles and relevant signage. Manufacturers claim these Autonomous Cars have control systems that are fully capable of analyzing sensory data to distinguish between different cars on the road, and claim that ‘robot cars’ are safer than human-driven ones because they don’t get distracted, angry or sleepy.
Some will mourn the loss of driving – hands up if you love that feeling of freedom once you get behind the wheel! And the whole point of luxury vehicles like Ferraris and Porches is kind of lost when a computer revs the engine for you. But soon, it seems most cars won’t have those kinds of engines anyway – they will be electric. Yep, it will be a huge paradigm shift for cars to go from human-driven to Autonomous, but there can be little doubt that this is the future of driving, and car manufacturers like Mercedes-Benz are already preparing for it.
Named for its first international appearance at last year’s Tokyo Motor Show, the Mercedes-Benz Vision Tokyo may resemble an unwieldy box, but it offers some intriguing features. Called an “automotive lounge,” the electric concept car seats five while boasting an autonomous driving mode. Essentially it’s a tip of the hat to Generation Z, those born in the Internet age, for its emphasis on the car’s role as a “digital, automobile companion” rather than a means of transport.
Inspired aesthetically and performance-wise by the F015 Luxury In Motion (which premiered at the 2015 International Consumer Electronics Show), the Vision Tokyo runs on a hydrogen fuel cell electric drive system. The system combines on-board electricity generation with a compact, wirelessly charged, high-voltage battery, providing a total range of 980km–190km from battery-power and 790km from fuel-cell electricity.
Gen Z occupants will appreciate the vehicle’s learning curve, which caters directly to them. Innovative algorithms–aka Deep Machine Learning and an intelligent Predictive Engine–allow the operating system to better understand occupants’ needs and preferences with each successive journey.
Its spacious dimensions (length 189.1”/height 63”/width 82.7”) and 26” wheels give the Vision Tokyo a true lounge-on-wheels feel. Enhancing that effect, the side windows are screen-printed in the vehicle’s colour–monochrome “Alubeam,” or molten metal–providing occupants with privacy yet still allowing plenty of light into the interior and a clear view of outside.
The surfaces and lines are illuminated in blue, symbolizing the clean energy of blue sky and water. The futuristic style continues with wrap-around glass paneling similar to that of a speedboat’s cockpit, and multi-purpose lighting on the front of the vehicle that visualizes the sound pattern of music beats playing inside the vehicle. A roof fin houses a 360-degree camera and other vehicle-environment sensor technology required for autonomous driving. And an upward-swinging, gullwing door opens on the vehicle’s left side.
The interior features an oval-shaped, five-seat couch arranged lounge-style to facilitate personal contact in a “chill and chat” environment. The autonomous driving mode obviates any worries over navigating traffic, but manual driving is also available. A seat facing in the direction of travel can be released from the couch’s front centre, while a standby steering wheel can be moved into driving position. Techies will love the lounge area’s entertainment system, which offers apps, maps and displays in 3-D hologram style, while the inside of the gullwing door doubles as an infotainment screen.
With its boxy shape and emphasis on passive transport, the Vision Tokyo isn’t for everyone. Like it or not, it remains a concept car, meaning it’s not production-ready. But what it offers is an idea of what the future holds–sooner than you think.