Mercedes-Benz F200 Imagination (1996)
Mercedes-Benz F 200 Imagination, an exhilarating, almost inconceivable concept of future motoring, was shown by Mercedes-Benz at the Paris Motor Show in 1996. Many of the technologies featured in the concept car have long ago found their way into auto production. This emphasizes the need of researchers and engineers thinking ahead for future vehicles, redefining possibilities and boundaries on a regular basis. The F 200 Imagination demonstrated what a large, modern coupe could look like – it foreshadowed key design elements of the Mercedes-Benz CL debuted in 1999. The original concept car can be seen in the Mercedes-Benz Museum’s “Fascination of Technology” section. This section is free to enter through the atrium.
“A car’s movements controlled by computers,” “mechanical linkages replaced by electronic systems,” “maximum safety in any situation”. All these statements were used in communicating the F 200 Imagination 25 years ago. Of course, the concept car itself created a stir. Its most noticeable feature was that it lacked a steering wheel. The driver controlled it with sidesticks and could choose whether to use his right or left hand. One sidestick was installed in the door panel, and the other in the central console. Furthermore, because a third sidestick was installed in the trim of the right door, a front passenger could take over any time.
The prerequisite for all of this was “drive by wire,” which meant that major assemblies, such as steering, were controlled by electronics, electrics, and mechanical actuators rather than mechanical linkages. “The electronics recognize the driver’s commands and electronic systems then immediately decide the best and safest way to comply with the driver’s commands,” according to press release from October 1996. The F 200 Imagination was put through its paces in the company’s own driving simulator. Mercedes-Benz is also a pioneer in this industry, having installed its first driving simulator in 1985. In 1998, the company released an improved sidestick control system in a test car based on an SL from the 129 model series.
Several systems from the F 200 Imagination are now commonplace in automobiles
Although the display system in the F 200 Imagination was not officially referred to as a widescreen cockpit in 1996, the similarities to today’s Mercedes-Benz interior fittings and MBUX are striking: color monitors were positioned over the whole width of the cockpit. They displayed the vehicle’s gauges, as well as any notifications and the onboard computer. The screens also displayed the signals from the video cameras that had been installed in the rear-view mirrors – “rear-view systems,” as the press information referred to them. The monitors featured the phone, navigation system, radio, CD and DVD players. If desired, the sound was sent via wireless headphones for the front passenger. There was even Internet connection, including telebanking (as it was known at that time) and digital hotel reservations. The F 200 Imagination brought the future one step closer in 1996.
Drive-by-wire technology has already made its way into manufacturing automobiles. This is the only way systems like the Mercedes-Benz DRIVE PILOT can work: in certain conditions, the driver can relax while the car continues to drive in a fully automated manner. In this regard, the F 200 Imagination set the standard for autonomous driving 25 years ago. For many years, electronic steering has been included as a standard feature: the steering wheel serves as a pulse generator for the controls and actuators. The technology is also more fuel-efficient, which contributes to a car’s overall economy.
The F 200 Imagination introduced also many other new technologies that are now commonplace in automobiles. These included, for example, a variable light distribution headlamp system, window airbags, Active Body Control suspension, speech recognition for mobile phones, an electro-transparent panoramic roof, and an electrically actuated parking brake. All of the technologies mentioned below are available in Mercedes-Benz production vehicles, and most of them have been for some time. They are sometimes implemented in somewhat different ways, but that is the nature of things: technological growth never stops. This is what distinguished the Mercedes-Benz F 200 Imagination.