One of the biggest deciding factors for new car buyers right now is whether the car offers Apple CarPlay or Android Auto compatibility. We have become so used to doing everything on our phones that the idea of a car without them seems strange.
While these operating systems mirrored from our phones are handy, many car manufacturers have expanded their offerings to provide something that’s even more suited to the latest electric vehicles. One of the companies leading this progression is Mercedes-Benz. Its MBUX system already provides one of the most visually appealing operating systems, with the integration of navigation and voice assistant, as well as direct access to music subscriptions such as Apple Music without having to connect your phone.
The next step for Mercedes is its MBOS system, which will launch with its new MMA platform models next year and is set to bring in a new level of ‘hyper personalisation’ to the system. Some of these upgrades are even coming to the latest 2024 models in advance, allowing users to get a more custom experience with an increased range of features.
“The car is getting hyper-personalized,” says Markus Schäfer, Mercedes’ Chief Technology Officer. “It becomes the digital you of the customer. This is a pivoting point in the relationship to a vehicle. We came from a world of having knobs and buttons in the car and then maybe phrases if you want to address commands in the car. We went to natural language understanding, which is what we have today, but now we're taking it to the next level.”
The MBUX virtual assistant is now based on a large language model using an open AI version of Chat GPT, allowing for a more natural understanding and response. This means that users can give more conversational commands to the system and its responses will feel more human.
During a deep dive at CES, Mercedes previewed the future assistant for its upcoming MBOS platform offering a few noticeable upgrades. Firstly the assistant now has a form.
Though this is a human face – as this divided option in testing – the animated three-pointed star Mercedes-Benz badge glows different colours when it’s speaking, listening and processing. It also adds emoticons for moods.
When the new voice assistant speaks, it can vary the tone of its voice to suit the situation and your tone. Subtle variances in a single sentence make it more formal, more relaxed or even excited, which all add to the humanising of the assistant.
The new system will also pair the navigation with driver assistance in one screen. This will show you exactly what the car sees, via its cameras, sensors and LiDar. This comes through a partnership with Google Maps to deliver detailed 3D representations of the buildings and features surrounding the car as you drive, as well as other cars and pedestrians.
One of the most innovative of changes coming to the Mercedes infotainment system is the addition of a feature called Sound Drive. This addition has been created by the Grammy-winning rapper and tech entrepreneur, Will.i.am and turns the vehicle into an instrument – or at the very least a mixing desk.
Changes in the music tracks are made via the car’s sensors, so pressing the accelerator will bring in the main bass while steering and even using the window wipers can add elements to the song. It's much like a DJ remixing a track in a club using the sliders and dials on a mixer.
The tracks have been specially developed for Sound Drive and include some well-known tunes as well as new creations. Starting out, there are around 100 tracks available on the system but more are expected to follow.
Mercedes-Benz is one of the only companies to offer full level 3 autonomous (hands off, eyes off) driving and now sells its EQS model equipped with LiDar for this in select locations, including California, Nevada and Germany. Being able to take your eyes off the road opens up more time to enjoy the car’s entertainment, and so the latest Mercedes models are offering an extensive array of games in the car.
A new partnership with cloud gaming company, Antstream Arcade will bring a wide array of retro games to the Mercedes MBUX platform. This includes classics such as PacMan, Bubble Bobble and Space Invader and can be played on both the centre display, the passenger display and any rear displays. These are ideal for entertaining passengers on longer drives, or for all passengers when parked or charging.
At CES, the company also revealed its own immersive in-car game that uses both the steering wheel and a game controller to operate. The two-player game combines a driver and a shooter in a space adventure to avoid falling down holes in the tunnel and being attacked by flying objects.
Audible and Dolby Atmos
Those incredible Burmester speakers in Mercedes cars are for more than just musical fidelity. Thanks to a new partnership with Audible and Amazon Music, Mercedes drivers and passengers will be able to enjoy a range of audiobooks and podcasts in addition to new music. These will be delivered in full Dolby Atmos, to give the best possible experience in the car, and allow the passengers to immerse themselves in the story in the same way they would music.
Amazon Music will also be made available in Dolby Atmos through the app, providing yet another direct service to the Mercedes MBUX platform without the need to go via your phone.
Though connecting your phone to your car was originally about using the car’s system for hands-free calls, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto have increasingly been the providers of navigation and music services. With a system like the new MBUX and upcoming MBOS platform, it is proving that you don’t need your phone for this and that there’s plenty of innovation to come that will keep in-car systems ahead of their mirrored phone counterparts.