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Mercedes-Benz's Vision Tokyo is a self-driving car for the megacity

"A chill-out zone in the midst of the megacity traffic mayhem," Mercedes-Benz calls its latest self-driving concept car, the Vision Tokyo — so named because it's being introduced this week at the Tokyo Motor Show. "Chill-out zone" actually seems fair, because the interior of this smooth, silver bean of technology is an arc-shaped couch, where up to five passengers can, in fact, chill out.

There's nothing production-ready about the Vision Tokyo — everything from the fuel cell drivetrain to the futuristic wraparound displays in the interior is a dream of a far-off world, though Mercedes deserves some credit for focusing on a singularly executed theme: all of its concept cars this year, starting with the F 015 at January's CES, have looked like birds of a feather. Outside, there's the otherworldly silver paint covering everything, glass included; blue LED accents around the perimeter make the car look like a prop from Tron and communicate the vehicle's self-driving intentions to nearby pedestrians (another trick borrowed from the F 015).

Autonomous mode is clearly the focus considering the seating layout, but it's still possible to take control — a "jump seat" unfurls and a steering wheel pops out on command. That's not very chill, though; members of Generation Z (who Mercedes says the Vision Tokyo is for) want "personal contact whenever possible," which they can get with the face-to-face arrangement while the car drives itself.

Among the stranger features Mercedes has envisioned here is a hologram projection system for showing apps and maps in three-dimensional space. There's also a trick windscreen that will show a graphic equalizer — think a music visualizer from back in the Winamp days — whenever the occupants are listening to music. (Not to say you necessarily want the people outside your car to know what you're listening to, but it'd look cool, at least.) All this is tied to an emissions-free drivetrain that Mercedes says is good for 980 kilometers (609 miles) — 190 kilometers in electric-only mode and another 790 kilometers in the hydrogen fuel cell.

The exterior of the Vision Tokyo is "comparable" to a "mid-series vehicle" in its dimensions. Arguably, even that's too big for Tokyo, a hyper-dense city where subminiature "Kei cars" are extremely popular. But if you want to fit five people and play with three-dimensional apps, this concept might be your best choice.

Look for it on display at the Tokyo show this week.


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