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The Mercedes-Benz F 015: this is what tomorrow's self-driving cars look like

Mercedes-Benz took the wraps off a new concept car here at CES this week, and considering the setting, it's appropriately loaded to the gills with technology. The F 015 Luxury in Motion — yes, "Luxury in Motion" is part of the car's name — is basically a sleek pod with a huge passenger compartment, a fortuitous side effect of an imagined future where we spend most of our times chilling out in cars while they drive us around all by themselves. Mercedes actually calls the cabin "lounge-like," thanks to four rotating seats that can face each other. An array of screens throughout the car let passengers interact with controls and entertainment, supporting not-quite-production features like gestures and eye tracking.

One notable feature is the pair of "LED fields" at the front and rear that change color based on the car's current driving mode: white in manual, blue in autonomous. It seems innocuous enough, but it's easy to imagine a future where everyone around you wants to know whether you're driving or your car is — pedestrians, law enforcement, and so on.

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The F 015 is relatively light for its size thanks to extensive use of carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP), a material that BMW is using on its high-concept i3 and i8 models. The CFRP goes all the way to drivetrain, in fact: the car runs on hydrogen, and the tanks are made of it. Considering how strong hydrogen tanks need to be in order to survive a crash, that's a vote of confidence.

Toyota, which just announced earlier today that it's opening up thousands of hydrogen and fuel cell patents to try to spur interest in the technology, will undoubtedly be pleased to see that Mercedes is showing a new hydrogen concept here at the show. Infrastructure remains a challenge, though: the network of refueling stations necessary to make these cars viable simply doesn't exist yet.

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