If Google's driverless car is the autonomous vehicle of the near future, then Mercedes' F015 is the prototype of the distant future.
With reporter Bill Whitaker visiting Google as part of a 60 Minutes segment on autonomous cars Sunday (October 4), the news program also sat down with Mercedes-Benz engineer Alex Hilliger von Thile for a demonstration of the Mercedes F015.
Although the prototype is only capable of driving a pre-programmed course as of now, it can be controlled via a smartphone app or its no-button dashboard. The latter even responds to a swipe or wave of a hand and eye movements.
"What we are doing is natural interaction," von Thile explained to Whitaker, while adjusting the volume of the car's music without touching a knob.
To show his supreme confidence in the intelligence of the car, von Thile completely swiveled his chair around, so that his back was left facing the windshield.
"When you're not really tasked with driving anymore and route planning, a navigation system would be completely different," von Thile says. "Rather than having to focus on turn-by-turn maneuvers, the car can actually highlight what's really nice along the route."
He specifically mentioned the driver wanting to stop for a coffee and raising a hand in front of the no-button dashboard at a prompt and the car will safely pull over at a cafe. The preferences even extend to the ability to choose music from a playlist that's favorable for your driving situation—whether it's a calming song during bumper-to-bumper traffic or an upbeat track while the road is clear.
Like Google's self-driving car, Mercedes F015 has cameras and radar sensors that detect everything around it.