Mercedes Gets Smart on Interiors

Mercedes is upping the ante on how drivers and passengers interact with their vehicles. The company’s new MBUX system (short for Mercedes-Benz User Experience) promises to make it easier and more intuitive to access an ever-increasing number of features and functions, thanks to an array of nifty touchscreens, improved voice controls and a digital assistant with artificial intelligence.   

Due to launch this spring on the 2019 A-Class small car, MBUX eventually will spread to all new Mercedes models as they are redesigned. The system, which is powered by a 4-core microprocessor and Nvidia GPU, features two large (10.25- and/or 7-inch) displays: one for the instrument cluster and the other as the main infotainment hub. Users can reconfigure the screens based on their preferences and usage.

The touchscreens have smartphone-like interfaces that eliminate the rotary controls used in Mercedes’ current Comand infotainment interface. Various features can be accessed by touching different areas of a 3D rendering of the vehicle, which Mercedes says minimizes the number of menus and sub-menus users have to scroll through.  

The high-resolution images also can be rotated—and in some cases animated—to show the effect of different settings, such as adjusting the headlights. A full-screen mode will display navigation information across the entire area of the gauge cluster.

In addition to the touchscreens, drivers can use buttons and small touch surfaces on the steering wheel to interface with controls. Or you can just talk to the car, and the digital assistant will respond. The voice system supports 23 languages and is designed to recognize conversational speech patterns. Users simply say “Hey, Mercedes” or “Hello” to activate the system, then can trigger responses with statements or questions such as “I’m cold” or “Do I need sunglasses tomorrow in Miami.”

The digital assistant is similar to Alexa and Siri but is designed specifically for in-vehicle use. In addition to cloud-based services, Mercedes’ voice system will respond to vehicle-related requests such as changing the radio station or temperature settings even if there is no cellular connection.

The voice control is capable of learning buzzwords, speech patterns and other language variances over time. In addition, AI is used to adapt to specific users based on their habits, such as navigation routes, phone usage and radio preferences based on daily and weekly schedules. And a new vehicle-to-infrastructure connectivity can update drivers about changing road and traffic conditions—including approaching emergency vehicles—as well as keep tabs on local fuel prices and other nearby services. After a vehicle is parked, messages can be sent to the owner’s phone as necessary if the vehicle is struck or moved.  

The overall goal, Mercedes says, is to make life easier for drivers. “With MBUX, we have come another step closer to turning the vehicle into a mobile assistant,” notes Sajjad Khan, who heads the company’s digital vehicle & mobility operations.

Other automakers and suppliers are developing and introducing similar “cockpits of the future” to embrace new technologies and evolving customer needs and expectations. This will become more important as more features are added, and vehicles become increasingly connected and autonomous. Enhancing the user experience is the smart thing to do.